Confronting Emotions in Communication
The Challenge of Non-Judgment
Communication is essential in our lives. In a previous article, we introduced “NVC (Nonviolent Communication),” an approach to deepen empathy and understanding with others. This newsletter delves deeper into the first, yet challenging, steps of NVC: ‘observation’ and ‘feeling.’
In NVC, observation refers to viewing things as ‘objective’ facts, hindered by ‘subjective evaluations.’ For example, suppose a roommate forgets to take out the trash. If you say, “The trash hasn’t been taken out,” it’s an observation, but calling them a “self-centered lazy person” is an evaluation. Communication becomes problematic when observation (fact) and evaluation are mixed.
However, our society is replete with systems of evaluation and judgment, requiring us to train ourselves to distinguish observation from evaluation appropriately. One such method is ‘coaching,’ a communication approach that supports achieving others’ goals. Learning the principle of coaching that “the answer lies within the person” may enrich your communication.
The Act of Observing
Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge. – Carl Gustav Jung
Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung said, we unconsciously evaluate everything.
Evaluating is relatively easy, requiring less thought than understanding. Our brains are designed to automatically judge others’ actions to live without spending too much time or energy understanding everything we see.
However, in applying NVC, we must observe without any evaluation, which is quite challenging. So, how do we do this?
Here are four points to avoid evaluation:
- Avoid making assumptions
(Evaluation) Doug is a procrastinator.
(Observation) Doug only studies the night before the exam.
- Confusing prediction with certainty
(Judgment) Mike probably won’t win the match.
(Observation) Mike is at a disadvantage.
- The subject is unclear or too broad
(Evaluation) Asians are good at math.
(Observation) Many Asians I know are good at math.
- Presenting subjective evaluation as a general statement
(Evaluation) George is incompetent at work.
(Observation) George took a long time to complete the tasks I assigned.
These points help avoid evaluation, and practicing fact-based dialogue is key to ‘observation’ in NVC. It might be interesting to meta-observe how you evaluate in everyday life, even in casual conversations with friends, family, or colleagues.
Confronting Emotions Through Journaling
One way to understand and face your emotions is through journaling. Usually, it involves recording daily thoughts and emotions in a notebook, but there are no rules – you can include photos, write favorite quotes with colored pens, etc.
“Journal prompts” are ideas for journaling in a question format that helps explore inner emotions. Questions like ‘what & how’ enable exploring and processing difficult emotions. Noting small daily events can lead to insights into what enhances your happiness.
I’ve also tried “Write Meditation” by habit consultant Takeshi Furukawa, where you meditate by writing whatever comes to mind for 15 minutes daily. The recommendation here is to use ‘handwriting.’ Visualizing usually invisible emotions through ‘words’ helps objectify them, aiding in distinguishing emotions from thoughts and uncovering underlying reasons.
Trying journaling helped me understand what events trigger my negative emotions and what makes me happy, leading to self-understanding. Getting along with your emotions could be a step toward understanding others’.
Understanding Self and Others with an Emotion Model
Psychologist Robert Plutchik created the ‘,’ a colorful, flower-like model classifying 52 different emotions into various categories. According to this model, humans, including animals, have eight basic emotions at the center of experience, response, and sensation (joy, fear, surprise, anger, trust, sadness, disgust, anticipation). Weaker emotions radiate from these eight like petals, with fainter emotions positioned further out. For example, “fear>fright>anxiety.”
The model also includes 28 mixed emotions arising from two emotions blending, categorized based on the similarity of the two base emotions.
– Mixed Emotions of Similar Feelings
“Trust + Joy = Love”
“Disgust + Anger = Contempt”
– Mixed Emotions of Opposite Feelings
“Trust + Disgust = Conflict”
“Surprise + Anticipation = Confusion”
Understanding and using this model has many benefits. Simply knowing how emotions are defined makes it easier to control your feelings and understand others’.
The mix of “joy + sadness” is described as “bittersweet” in the model. However, the Japanese language has a similar yet slightly different term “sweet and sour,” which doesn’t exist in English. Both are translated as “bittersweet” in English. Perhaps the subtle difference perceived by Japanese speakers doesn’t exist in English-speaking cultures. I see this as a delicacy of the Japanese language. Though originally created in English, this emotion model might differ based on language and cultural differences.