Creating Space for Feelings without Triggering Yourself or Others

Alright feeling and expressing emotions [link] is great but what do I do if as soon as I say how I feel the other person explodes?

Emotions can be like dynamite. Useful in industry but highly dangerous for children. Most of us are still children when it comes to emotions and like children to act responsibly we need structure.

If you’re moving into an emotionally charged environment (meaning there is lots of emotion yet to be expressed and the potential for drama is high from you or others), I recommend creating an emotionally explicit structure in advance before beginning the conversation:

1. Get permission – opt-in, not opt-out
“I have some big feelings I need to express to you and I feel that you may have some to share with me. Can we make a space together right now to do that safely and openly?”
This prepares someone for the nature of what’s being expressed. If they’re not ready for it right now they can choose to step out of the conversation gracefully.

2. Set the structure.
“Here’s how I’d like to have this discussion…”
Setting the structure out in advance makes it easier for the conversation to go in a constructive path and again allows someone who is not able to engage to step out gracefully.

The structure I recommend:
– Party A – expresses for 5 minutes how they’re feeling. Party B listens without comment.
– Party B – asks questions but does not share judgment or respond. They can only seek greater understanding.
– Party B – summarizes what they believe Party A is expressing and acknowledges them – “I hear you”
– Switch Roles

3. Work the structure – Emotion first. Action second.
The structure I put forth gets through emotional information first before moving into action. Choosing directions when you are trying to navigate a potentially dramatic situation leads often to poor decisions and outcomes. Make your emotional expression and action planning distinct encounters. This can be as simple as taking a 30 minute break before coming back to plan a course of action.
Negotiating and resolving a conflict is its own challenging arena and requires a special set of skills depending on the context. However knowing how to share, acknowledge, and process the emotional content up-front can allow you to make the emotional part of an encounter a creative process rather than a destructive one.

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