I am a person that compartmentalizes well. I tend to place my personal life in one little box and my professional life in another. Within those two boxes, I have even more boxes. This systematic way of viewing my life allows me, often, to remove emotion from the situation.
Not everyone is like me.
A lot of people are driven by emotions. When I’m teaching communication skills, I teach that there are four main categories in every conversation: who you are, what you want, where you are, and how you feel. That final category, how you feel, plays a massive part in how we take in information and communicate with one another. For some people, this part is harder to contain and control and leads every single decision and moment.
This might sound incredibly familiar to many of you – you might interact daily with emotion-driven employees or coworkers, and you might be a lot like me, a person that can compartmentalize information and stimulus. Here are a few tips to best connect with those folks who are led by emotions:
Give them space
This tip is especially relevant during times of emotional distress. Don’t crowd, don’t ask how you can help, don’t overwhelm them with ideas and solutions. Give space for them to process their emotions. If someone is driven by emotions, the likelihood is high that they know how to regulate to some extent or have dealt with moments in the past where they just need space and time to process.
You can do this by physically leaving the situation. You don’t have to make it awkward – just find that exit moment to walk away. You can say you’ll be right back, you can be transparent and say you want to give them a moment to themselves – whatever you say, your intention of giving them some time to themselves will be seen as a welcome gesture.
Read the room
My husband tells me this all the time. Take a moment to survey the situation – this might happen even before you give space! If you’re not emotionally driven, you might respond to logic, information, and facts – spend some time collecting those before you even interact with anyone in the situation.
By reading the room, you can both see what may have caused the emotional outburst or reaction and develop empathy in the situation. Sure, you might not ever completely understand emotional reactions to things that you might normally react systematically or logically. By continuing to do this with emotionally-driven people, you’re developing a greater understanding of the moment and situation – and the person! This effort won’t go unnoticed and gives you something to do while you’re giving space and executing the next tip.
Let them feel
One of the worst things you can do when an emotion-driven person is sitting in their emotions? Make them feel like they can’t experience those emotions. When you ask them to “cheer up” or “stop crying” or pull them out of whatever space they are hiding out and experiencing those emotions, you’re preventing them from processing.
How do you feel when someone tells you to stop thinking about something or stop walking through information? Frustrated. Now multiply that by someone who is completely led by emotions, and that frustration becomes completely numbing. Let them go through the emotional ride and say something like, “Let me know what I can do” or “Follow up with me tomorrow.” Both of those statements give time to process.
Above all, remember that you can’t change how someone else communicates – only how you respond to them.