Strong emotions can get in the way of constructive dialogue and communication. They can be triggered in either party in the dialogue. And they can spread – each party can pick up the other’s strong emotions.

Strong emotions interrupt our ability to think rationally. They trigger our flight or fight response; we become defensive or aggressive.

Strong emotions suspend our empathy, and thus interfere with our ability to listen. Communications is extremely challenging or nigh possible in this state.

Strong emotions can be:

  • Anger —> venting, banging on the table, throwing things.
  • Sadness —> teary, crying, sobbing.
  • Shock —> confused, panicky, shut down (numb.)

What to do:

  • Acknowledge that strong emotions have been triggered and that effective dialogue is not possible at this moment.
  • Indicate willingness to resume this at a later stage.
  • Check for safety. Could the strong emotion result in someone getting hurt or damage to property? If yes, then something needs to be done to mitigate this.
  • Walk away from the situation calmly.
  • If you are the one with the strong emotions, reduce the intensity by going for a walk or doing something else.
  • Talk through what happened with a trusted colleague.
  • Seek counselling help if required.
  • Identify the triggers of the strong emotions.
  • The triggers may be something from the past, or something outside of the current topic and relationship.
  • Brainstorm ways to mitigate or avoid the triggers.
  • Review the big picture. Remind yourself of the shared and respective goals. And review your mitigation steps to get ready for the next encounter.

Communication fails are often only temporary. With the right intention and work, we can usually overcome this. Overcoming communication obstacles can bring us closer, build trust and foster mutual respect.

Image: Matches via Shutterstock.