Logic vs. Emotion:  The winner is…

Emotion!  If you doubt that, recall the times when the person with whom you were dealing was highly-emotional.  What approach did you use?  Odds are that you tried to sway their emotions with logical arguments…it’s the natural tendency we have by virtue of our human nature.

The question is “How successful was your logic in overcoming the person’s emotional state?”  My experience is that logic rarely, if ever, overcomes emotion.

The nature of emotion

In order to understand emotions and how to deal with them, we must first understand that emotions vary in intensity.  Emotions typically are of one of two varieties:

  1. Instantaneous Reactions
  2. Cumulative Experiences

Instantaneous reactions

When someone says or does something that offends us, we experience resentment.  It’s an automatic response that happens so quickly we often don’t realize what’s happening.

These emotional reactions are, however, easy to set aside. If we simply pause a moment before responding to whatever was said or done, we can set that emotion aside and deal with the situation effectively…with logic.  The vast majority of us do this on a daily basis.

We recognize that the affront wasn’t intentional, that the person misspoke or hasn’t learned a more effective approach to communicating.  Or we realize that the person is misinformed or missing a piece of the puzzle and that sharing the information they’re missing will remedy the problem.

Regardless of the situation, we recognize our emotions for what they are…an instantaneous reaction that can easily be overcome if we pause for a moment before reacting.

Cumulative experiences

Let’s contrast that with emotions that are the result of repeated slights, put downs or annoying behaviors.  These don’t have to be big issues like bullying or verbal abuse, if I’m unaware that I do something that annoys my wife and she doesn’t tell me, she will eventually become so annoyed that when she can’t stand it anymore, she’ll explode and I’ll be hit with a tirade that astonishes me.

Logic won’t work in these situations…until the person has had a chance to vent.  Yet our natural reaction in situations like this is to respond with logic or equally brutal attacks.  Counterattacks exacerbate the problem and escalate the emotions.

Logic doesn’t work as long as she’s experiencing strong emotions.  She won’t want to hear “If you’d have just told me.”  She needs to vent, to be heard and acknowledged, before she will be open to collaborating on a logical solution.

By the way, this is a two-way street.  There have been times when I’ve neglected to tell her when something she does annoys me.  When I persist in failing to voice my annoyance, the result is precisely the same…an unwarranted attack on her and an unwillingness to listen to logic until I’ve vented my emotions.

That brings us the real question. “If logic doesn’t work, what does?”

The solution

Here are the steps to a successful outcome:

  1. Allow the person to vent their frustrations…do NOT interrupt.
  2. Instead of becoming defensive, acknowledge your contribution to the problem (let the person know that you can understand the source of their frustration).
  3. Agree to change your behavior to avoid repeating the problem.
  4. Ask the person to let you know when they feel slighted or are annoyed instead of allowing it to build to an explosive end.
  5. Experience the joy of a renewed and strengthened bond with the person…your relationship just got stronger.

For our kids

Imagine how much easier our kids’ lives will be when we teach them to share their frustration instead of allowing it to build.  What if, instead of admonishing kids for speaking disrespectfully, we taught them the language they needed to express their frustration while showing respect to the other person?

Better yet, what if we led by example?  If we trained ourselves out of the natural tendency of tolerating things that annoy us and, instead, confronted them with candor and respect for the other person, do you think our kids might emulate that behavior?

I modeled my parents’ behaviors and have observed other kids doing the same.  I know that kids learn a great deal by observing what their parents and teachers do.  One of my clients told me that his 10-year-old son had picked up on one of the counterintuitive approaches I’d taught him by simply observing what his dad had done.  Odds are, when you develop these habits and your kids see how well they work, they’ll adopt these behaviors as well.

If you won’t do these things for yourself, do them for your kids.

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