The Joy of Emotions – Be a Listener, Not a Fixer

I’ve happily been pursuing and trying to maintain happiness for much of my life. I’m definitely a glass-half-full kind of person. While I consider myself a good listener, I have to admit that in the past I didn’t necessarily listen to the grumblings of others when they were unhappy. I self-acknowledged that they were unhappy, but I never really listened to the reason why they were unhappy. Instead, I put blinders on and just wanted to fix the situation so they could be happy again.  

This leads me to the new Disney Pixar film “Inside Out.” It’s about how an emotional soup is much better than a steady diet of joy. I used to be like the character Joy in the movie, trying to turn every negative situation into a positive experience, distracting people from what went wrong, glossing over the damage, and maybe ignoring it altogether. Now I see I really wasn’t helping and that I can’t be a fixer.

People need to have their say about whatever they’re feeling… whether it’s sad, or mad, frustrated or embarrassed, or any of the other many emotions we humans experience. People need to feel it and be heard. Then, depending on the situation, they might need commiseration or a hug or some honest feedback.

At work, honest feedback is a must when it comes to emotions. We hear a lot about happiness at work these days, but the truth is work can be messy and stressful. We aren’t always going to be happy, and neither are our co-workers, freelancers, or clients. Things happen that can cause a person to go from happy and joyful to frustrated and angry in a nanosecond … misunderstandings, miscommunications, schedule conflicts, corrupted files, computer crashes, and the list goes on.

As an ILG project manager, when someone expresses… hmmm, let’s call it a “not so positive” emotion, I know I can’t ignore it or try to fix it as much as the “Joy” in me wants to. I have to let the emotion be expressed before resolution can come and the happy state returns. Don’t get me wrong, this is difficult for me, and I still have to suppress my “fix-it” urge. However, I’m following some simple steps to ensure I’m being a listener instead of a fixer. These steps may also help you.

After taking a deep breath:

  1. Listen without interrupting.
  2. Acknowledge what you hear but neither agree nor disagree.
  3. Ask questions when the time is right. Certain emotions make it difficult for people to think rationally. Sometimes you need to give people an hour, a day, or even a few days to calm down before starting to probe.
  4. Repeat the facts of the situation — the facts and only the facts.
  5. Offer feedback for what to do going forward. No need to rehash what went wrong in the past.
  6. If you’re part of the issue, accept your part in it. Offer solutions and options for what you’ll do differently.
  7. Let it go. (Yes, advice from another Disney movie.)

I’d love to hear if these steps work for you. And to learn more about the science behind the emotional lessons in “Inside Out,” read Four Lessons from “Inside Out” to Discuss With Kids from the “Greater Good.” Don’t let the emphasis on “kids” turn you off; the lessons apply to adults too. And depending on our emotions, most of us still feel like a kid every now and then.   

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