Johari Window Diagram
Using the Johari Window model, diagram your relationship with a romantic partner or close friend.
What insights can you draw from this?
How did information move from your Hidden quadrant to your Open quadrant, or from your Blind to
Now diagram one for a person you don’t know very well, can be personal or professional. What
information is in your Open quadrant with your partner/friend but not in the Open quadrant with
What other differences are there?
How does this impact your relationship?
What cues do you use to determine if you want to take a relationship to a deeper level?
Your paper should be a 2-3 page paper citing specific examples and providing detailed analysis
incorporation reading and textbook material. If outside sources are used, proper citation of the source
should be included.
My sister Carolyn and I had been very close for years when her first child, Michelle, was born. I shared
Carolyn’s delight in the new member of our family, yet I also felt pushed out of her life. Carolyn was so
involved with her daughter that she had little time for me. Phone calls from her, which had been
frequent, almost ceased. When I called Carolyn, she often cut our conversation short because it was
time to feed Michelle or get her up or change her diaper. Over lunch with my friend Nancy, I
complained, “Carolyn never has time for me anymore. I am so angry with her!”
“Sounds to me more like you’re hurt than angry,” Nancy remarked.
What was I feeling? Was it anger or hurt or both? Emotions, or feelings, are part of our lives. We feel
happiness, sadness, shame, pride, embarrassment, envy, disappointment, and a host of other emotions.
And we communicate to express our emotions. We may express emotions nonverbally (smiling,
trembling, blushing) or verbally (“I’m excited,” “I feel anxious about the interview”), or both.
Although we experience and express feelings, we don’t always do so effectively. There are times when
we aren’t able to identify exactly what we feel, as I wasn’t when trying to describe my feelings about
Carolyn’s reduced time for me. Even when we do recognize our emotions, we aren’t always sure how to
express them clearly and effectively. Do we want to vent, or do we want another person to comfort us,
apologize to us, empathize with us, or behave differently toward us? To communicate well, we need to
develop skill in identifying and expressing our emotions.
To open this chapter, we’ll discuss emotional intelligence, which complements cognitive intelligence.
Next, we define emotions and examine different theories that attempt to explain why and how we
experience emotions. Then we explore why we sometimes fail to express our feelings and how we can
learn to express them effectively. Fourth, we consider how what we have learned about emotions
applies to digital and online communication. Finally, we discuss guidelines for communicating emotions
in ways that foster our individual growth and the quality of our relationships with others.
If you have watched The Big Bang Theory, you know the
character of Sheldon Cooper (played by Jim Parsons). Sheldon
seems oblivious to others’ feelings and often to his own. As a
result, Sheldon routinely hurts and offends others. The Big Bang
Theory is a comedy, and Sheldon’s emotional ineptitude adds to
the fun. In real life, however, people who are emotional oafs are
not funny to themselves or others
Psychologist Daniel Goleman and his colleagues have recognized a kind of intelligence distinct from the
type that standard IQ tests measure. They named it emotional intelligence, or EQ, which is the ability to
recognize feelings, to judge which feelings are appropriate in which situations, and to communicate
those feelings effectively (Goleman, 1995a; Goleman, Boyatzis & McKee, 2002; Ciarrochi & Mayer, 2007;
Niedenthal, Kraut-Cruber, & Ric, 2006). The concept of emotional intelligence builds on Carol Saarni’s
(1990) work on “emotional competence,” which involves awareness of our own emotions, including
multiple emotions experienced simultaneously, the ability to recognize and empathize with others’
emotions, awareness of the impact of our expression of emotions on others, and sensitivity to cultural
rules for expressing emotions. Although some scholars think EQ is not part of overall IQ but rather a
distinct kind of intelligence, there is broad consensus that emotional intelligence is important for
A concrete example will provide a clear understanding of EQ: You are driving and another driver, who
has been tailgating you, whips in front of you, almost hitting the left front panel on your car. What do
you feel? What do you do? You may want to scream some choice words or tailgate the other car to get
revenge. It’s understandable to feel and do that, but such responses don’t show high emotional
intelligence. A more emotionally intelligent response would be to take a deep breath and tell yourself to
cool down, put on your favorite music, and think about reasons why the person in the other car might
be driving this way: Perhaps there’s an emergency; perhaps the driver had a flat tire and is making up
time to get to a child’s soccer game. This is an emotionally intelligent response because it shows
awareness of your own feelings and also sensitivity to another’s perspective, it calms your anger, it
reflects awareness of social norms, and it doesn’t lead to danger or undesirable outcomes.
Emotional intelligence is linked to well-being. People who have high emotional intelligence quotients are
more likely than people with lower EQs to create satisfying relationships, to be comfortable with
themselves, to work effectively with others, and to have better overall health (Goleman, 1995a, 1995b,
1998; Goleman et al., 2002; Landa & López-Safra, 2010). Emotional intelligence consists of the following
Being aware of your feelings
Dealing with emotions without being overcome by them
Not letting setbacks and disappointments derail you
Channeling your feelings to assist you in achieving your goals
Being able to understand how others feel without their spelling it out
Listening to your feelings and those of others so you can learn from them
Recognizing social norms for expression of emotions
Having a strong yet realistic sense of optimism
Communication in Everyday Life:Workplace
EQ and Career Advancement
Researchers (Goleman, 1998; Goleman et al., 2002) collected data from 150 firms to learn what
distinguishes mediocre employees from superstars. They found that conventional IQ accounts for no
more than 25% of success on the job, whether the job is copier repairperson, CEO, or scientist. The
greater difference comes from EQ. Furthermore, as jobs become more difficult and higher in company
rank, the importance of EQ increases. In short, advancement depends on other qualities such as selfcontrol, initiative, empathy, political savvy, and supportive, cooperative communication.
EQ may also be important at the earliest stage of a profession—getting admitted to a school that
provides training. A number of M.B.A. schools, including Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business,
Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, and Yale’s School of Management, test applicants’ EQ as part of
admissions considerations (Korn, 2013).
Visit online sites to learn more about emotional intelligence. One is the Consortium for Emotional
Intelligence in the Workplace at http://www.eiconsortium.org. Another site is the EQ Institute at
http://eqi.org. Once you access the site, click on the Emotional Intelligence link, where you will find
definitions of EQ, self-tests for EQ, references, and suggestions for college students writing papers on
To learn about criticisms of EQ, read Kevin Murphy’s A Critique of Emotional Intelligence (2006).
Emotional intelligence includes more than being in touch with your feelings. You also need skill in
expressing them constructively and an ability to recognize how others feel. Because humans are
connected to each other, how one person expresses emotions to another affects the other person—like
catching a cold, says Goleman (2006). If we express anger, others are likely to respond with anger or
defiance. On the other hand, if we express love or yearning for closeness, others are likely to respond
more positively. To illustrate this, let’s return to my conversation with Nancy. After we had talked a
while, I said, “I think I’ll call Carolyn and tell her I resent being pushed out of her life.”
“Well, when my friend Penny had a child and was totally preoccupied with him, I felt what I think you’re
feeling,” Nancy disclosed.
“And what did you do?” I asked.
“I told her I missed her.”
Missed her? I thought it over. I did miss Carolyn. Telling her that would be an honest and affirming way
to express my feelings. Telling Carolyn I missed her might open the door to restore our closeness. Telling
her I was angry or resentful probably wouldn’t enhance our relationship.
Through the conversation with Nancy, I discovered that anger was a defensive reaction I was using to
avoid acknowledging how vulnerable and hurt I felt. Later that day, I called Carolyn and told her I missed
her. Her response was immediate and warm: “I miss you too. I’ll be so glad when we get adjusted
enough to Michelle that we have time for us again.” I was effective in communicating my feelings to
Carolyn, thanks to Nancy’s insight into emotions and her skill in helping me figure out what I was feeling
and how to express it effectively.
Although emotions are basic to human beings and
communication, they are difficult to define precisely. Some
researchers assert that humans experience two kinds of
emotions: some that are based in biology and thus instinctual
and universal, and others that we learn in social interaction
(Kemper, 1987). Yet scholars don’t agree on which emotions are
basic (Izard, 1991; Shaver, Schwartz, Kirson, & O’Connor, 1987;
Shaver, Wu, & Schwartz, 1992). Also, many scholars don’t find it
useful to distinguish between basic emotions and learned
emotions (Ekman & Davidson, 1994).
Many scholars think that most or all emotions are socially
constructed to a substantial degree. For example, we learn from
particular others and the generalized other when to feel
gratitude, embarrassment, and so forth. In her book Anger: The
Misunderstood Emotion, Carol Tavris (1989) argues that anger is
not entirely basic or instinctual. She shows that our ability to
experience anger is influenced by social interaction, through
which we learn whether and when we are supposed to or
allowed to feel anger.
In many instances, what we feel is not a single emotion but
several mingled together, as I felt in the situation with Carolyn.
Paul Ekman and Richard Davidson (1994) surveyed research on
emotions and concluded that blends of emotion are common.
For instance, you might feel both sad and happy at your
graduation or both grateful and resentful when someone helps
Last year, my daughter got married, and I’ve never felt so many things in one
moment. As I walked her down the aisle and took her arm from mine and placed it
on the arm of her future husband, I felt sadness and happiness, hope and anxiety
about her future, pride in the woman she’d become and her confidence in starting a
new life, and loss because we would no longer be her primary family.
Communication in Everyday Life:Social Media
The Dragonfly Effect
The title of The Dragonfly Effect (Aakers & Smith, 2010) comes from the fact that
“the dragonfly is the only insect able to propel itself in any direction—with
tremendous speed and force—when its four wings are working in concert” (p.
xiii). Moving with speed and force is what author Aakers and Smith urge people
to do when they are marketing online. They point out that effective use of social
media to market ideas depends on tapping into people’s emotions. If you get
others to care about your message, they will repost it and create the possibility of
a viral campaign. They liken this to the well-known ripple effect whereby a stone
dropped in water creates a ripple, followed by more and more ripples. The first
small ripple can lead to a big effect.
Now that we have seen how important emotions are, let’s define
the concept. Emotions are our experience and interpretation of
internal sensations as they are shaped by physiology,
perceptions, language, and social experiences. Although
researchers vary in the degree to which they emphasize each of
these influences, most people who have studied emotions agree
that physiology, perceptions, social experience, and language all
play parts in our emotional lives.
Physiological Influences on Emotions
Have you ever felt a knot in your stomach when you got back an exam with a low grade? If so, you
experienced a physiological reaction. Early theorists believed that we experience emotion when external
stimuli cause physiological changes in us. This is the organismic view of emotions, and it is shown in
Figure 7.1The Organismic View of Emotions
Advanced by philosopher William James and his colleague Carl Lange, the organismic view, also called
the James–Lange view, asserts that when we perceive a stimulus, we first respond physiologically, and
only after that do we experience emotions (James, 1890; James & Lange, 1922). This perspective
assumes that emotions are reflexes that follow from physiological actions. For example, Chris Kleinke,
Thomas Peterson, and Thomas Rutledge (1998) found that when people smile (physiological action),
their moods (emotions) are more positive, and when people frown, their moods are more negative.
James wrote that emotional expression begins with a perception of something, perhaps seeing a gift
with your name on it or noticing that someone with a weapon is running toward you. After the
perception, James believed, we experience changes in our bodies: We feel a tingle of anticipation on
seeing the gift; adrenaline surges when we are approached by someone with a weapon. Finally, said
James, we experience emotion: We feel joy at the gift, fear at the aggressor.
The organismic view regards emotions as instinctual responses to physiological arousal caused by
external stimuli. James specifically discounted what he called “intellectual mind stuff” (Finkelstein, 1980)
as having nothing to do with our perceptions of stimuli and, by extension, our emotions.
Perceptual Influences on Emotions
James’s view of the relationship between bodily states and
feelings is no longer widely accepted. Today, most researchers
think the physiological influences are less important than other
factors in shaping emotions.
The perceptual view of emotions, which is also called
appraisal theory, asserts that subjective perceptions shape what
external phenomena mean to us. External objects and events, as
well as physiological reactions, have no intrinsic meaning.
Instead, they gain meaning only as we attribute significance to
them. We might interpret trembling hands as a symbol of fear, a
raised fist as a threat, and a knot in the stomach as anxiety.
Alternatively, we might interpret trembling hands as signifying
joy on graduation day; a raised fist as power and racial pride, as
it was during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s;
and a knot in the stomach as excitement about receiving a major
award. These different interpretations would lead us to define
our emotions distinctly. That’s the key to the perceptual view of
emotions: We act on the basis of our interpretation of
phenomena, not the tangible phenomena.
The ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus observed that people
are disturbed not by things but by the views we take of them.
Buddha observed that we are what we think; with our thoughts
we make the world. In other words, how we view things leads
us to feel disturbed, pleased, sad, joyous, afraid, and so forth.
Thus, our perceptions filter our experiences, and it is the
filtered experiences that influence what we feel and how we
Buddhism teaches us that our feelings arise not from things themselves but from
what we attach to them. In my life, this is true. If I find myself upset about how a
conversation is going, I ask myself, “Harihar, what is it that you were expecting to
happen? Can you let go of that and enter into what is actually happening here?”
That helps me realize and let go of my attachment to certain outcomes of the
We respond differently to the same phenomenon depending on
the meaning we attribute to it. For example, if you earn a low
score on a test, you might interpret it as evidence that you are
not smart. This interpretation could lead you to feel shame or
disappointment or other unpleasant emotions. Conversely, you
might view the low score as the result of a tricky or overly
rigorous exam, an interpretation that might lead you to feel
anger at the teacher or resentment at the situation. Anger is
very different from shame. Which one you feel depends on how
you perceive the score and the meaning you attribute to it. The
perceptual view of emotions is represented in Figure 7.2
The perceptual view of emotions does not clearly identify the mechanism by which we interpret
emotions. This problem is corrected in the cognitive labeling view of emotions, which is similar to the
perceptual view but offers better explanation of how we move from experience to interpretation.
According to the cognitive labeling view of emotions, the mechanism that allows this is language. This
view claims that our labels for our physiological responses influence how we interpret those responses
(Schachter, 1964; Schachter & Singer, 1962). Phrased another way, what we feel may be shaped by how
we label our physiological responses. For example, if you feel a knot in your stomach when you see that
you received a low grade on an exam, you might label the knot as evidence of anxiety. Thus, what you
felt would not result directly from the event itself (the grade). Instead, it would be shaped by how you
labeled your physiological response to the event. This view of emotions is represented in Figure 7.3.
Figure 7.3The Cognitive Labeling View of Emotions
I witnessed how our labels for events and our responses to them influence what we feel. When my
niece, Michelle, was 2 years old and weighed about 30 pounds, she and my sister Carolyn visited me. As
they came into our home, our 65-pound dog, Madhi, ran to greet them and started licking Michelle.
Immediately, Michelle started crying. I got Madhi to lie down across the room, and Michelle said,
“Mommy, Mommy, I’m scared. My heart is going fast because she came after me and made me scared.”
Carolyn cuddled Michelle and said, “Your heart isn’t going fast because you’re scared, sweetheart. It’s
because Madhi surprised you and you were startled. Madhi was telling you how much she loves you.
Dogs are our friends.” Carolyn and I then petted Madhi and let her lick us and said repeatedly, “Oh,
Madhi licked me because she loves me. She startled me.”
Michelle quickly picked up our language and began to laugh, not cry, when Madhi bowled her over. By
the end of the day, Michelle and Madhi were fast friends. Before she went to bed that night, Michelle
told us, “Madhi makes my heart beat faster because I love her.”
What happened here? Madhi’s exuberance didn’t diminish, nor did Michelle’s physiological response of
increased heart rate. What did change was how Michelle labeled her physiological response. Carolyn
and I taught her to interpret Madhi’s behavior as friendly and exciting instead of threatening. Michelle’s
label for her emotion also changed: scared became startled.
The most important lesson I learned when my family first moved to the United States was that a bad
grade on a test is not a judgment that I am stupid. It is a challenge for me to do better. My ESL teacher
taught me that. He said if I saw a bad grade as saying I am dumb or a failure that I would never learn
English. He taught me to see grades as challenges that I could meet. That attitude made it possible for
me not to give up and to keep learning.
Each of these models gives us insight into emotions. Yet none of them is complete, because none
adequately accounts for the critical influence of culture in shaping emotions and how we communicate
Cultural Influences on Emotions
As we learned in Chapter 3, perception is influenced by the culture and the social groups to which we
belong. Historian Barbara Rosenwein (1998) calls the groups we identify with “emotional communities”
because they teach us how to understand and express emotions. Examples of emotional communities
are families, neighborhoods, gangs, monasteries, and friends. Schools and workplaces may also be
communities we identify with. The society and communities in which we live influence our beliefs about
which emotions are good or bad, which emotions we should express or repress, and with whom we can
appropriately communicate which emotions. For example, the emotion of shame is emphasized much
more in traditional Asian societies than in Western societies. This may explain why 95% of Chinese
parents report that their children understand the meaning of shame by age 3, whereas only 10% of
American parents report this (Sedgwick, 1995; Shaver et al., 1987; Shaver et al., 1992).
Beginning in the 1970s, some scholars began to advance the interactive view of emotions, which
proposes that cultural rules and understandings shape what people feel and how they do or don’t
express their feelings (Hochschild, 1979, 1983, 1990). The interactive view of emotions rests on three
key culturally influenced concepts: framing rules, feeling rules, and emotion work.
David Silverman/Photonica World/Getty Images
Framing rules define the emotional meaning of situations. For instance, Western culture defines
funerals as sad and respectful occasions. Within any single culture, however, there are multiple social
groups and resulting ways of framing events. For example, many Irish Americans hold wakes when a
person dies. A wake is a festive occasion during which people tell stories about the departed person and
celebrate his or her life. Other groups define funerals and the receptions following them as somber
occasions at which any mirth or festivity would be perceived as disrespectful and inappropriate. During
the Jewish practice of sitting shiva, family members do not engage others in routine ways such as talking
on the phone.
Feeling rules tell us what we have a right to feel or what we are expected to feel in particular situations.
Feeling rules reflect and perpetuate the values of cultures and social groups (Miller, 1993, 1998; Nanda
& Warms, 1998). For example, some cultures view feeling and expressing anger as healthy. Yet the
Semai of Malaysia think that being angry brings bad luck, and they try to avoid anger (Dentan, 1995;
Robarchek & Dentan, 1987). That may be one reason that not a single murder among Semais has ever
been recorded! Cultures that emphasize individuality promote the feeling rule that it is appropriate to
feel pride in personal accomplishments, whereas cultures that emphasize collectivism teach members
that accomplishments grow out of membership in groups and reflect well on those groups, not on
individuals (Johnson, 2000). Thus, in collectivist cultures a feeling rule might be that it is appropriate for
a person to feel gratitude to family and community for personal accomplishments.
Communication in Everyday Life:Diversity
The Social Shaping of Grief
Cultures have distinct framing rules for responding to death (Frijda, 2006; Lofland, 1985; Miller, 1993,
1998). In some African tribes, death is regarded as cause to celebrate a person’s passage to a better
form of life. Buddhists do not regard the death of a body as the end of a person because the essence of
the person is assumed to continue in other forms. In some cultures, people feel deep grief over the loss
of cousins to whom they have intense and lasting attachments. In contrast, other cultures define cousins
as distant relations whose death seldom provokes deep sadness.
A number of years ago, I read a newspaper story that shows how feeling rules differ between cultures.
American teachers didn’t realize that parents and students from collectivist cultures are dismayed when
report cards state that students “speak up in class.” Because collectivist cultures emphasize the overall
community, an individual who stands out may be perceived as showing off and inappropriately calling
attention to himself or herself (“Teachers’ Words,” 2000). All social communities have rules that specify
acceptable and unacceptable ways to feel.
Feeling rules are sometimes explicated in terms of rights and duties. The following common phrases
highlight the language of duty and rights that infuses feeling rules:
I’m entitled to feel sad. She should be grateful to me for what I did. I ought to feel happy that my friend
got a job. I have a right to be proud. I shouldn’t feel angry at my father.
There is a strong connection between feeling rules and social order. A key way that a society attempts to
control people is through feeling rules that uphold broad social values and structures (1990). For
example, teaching people that they should feel pride in their personal accomplishments reinforces the
value that Western culture places on individualism and ambition. Teaching people to regard
accomplishments as communal, not individual, upholds the value that many non-Western cultures place
A second way in which feeling rules uphold social structure is by linking the right to express feelings to
social status and power. Studies of people in service industries reveal that the less power employees
have, the more they tend to be targets of negative emotional communication by people who have more
power (Hochschild, 1983). People who have more power may learn they have a right to express anger,
offense, frustration, and so forth, whereas people who have less power may learn that it isn’t
acceptable for them to express such emotions. To test the validity of this idea, ask yourself who is the
target of more complaints and greater hostility: servers or restaurant managers, flight attendants or
pilots, receptionists or CEOs.
Claus Christensen/Getty Images
Parents differ in how they teach children to deal with feelings. Some parents encourage children to
control their inner feelings through deep acting, which involves learning what they should and should
not feel. For instance, children may be taught that they should feel grateful when given a gift even if
they don’t like the gift. Many children are taught that they should not feel angry when a friend takes a
toy. Deep acting requires changing how we perceive and label events and phenomena.
Other parents emphasize surface acting, which involves controlling the outward expression of emotions
rather than controlling feelings. Parents who emphasize surface acting teach children to control their
outward behaviors, not necessarily their inner feelings. For example, children learn that they should say
“thank you” when they receive a gift and that they should not hit a friend who takes a toy. Expressing
gratitude is emphasized more than feeling grateful, and refraining from hitting someone who takes a toy
is stressed more than feeling good about sharing toys.
The final concept is emotion work, which is the effort to generate what we think are appropriate
feelings in particular situations. Notice that emotion work concerns the process of trying to shape how
we feel, not necessarily our success in doing so.
Although we do emotion work much of the time, we tend to be most aware of engaging in it when we
think our feelings are inappropriate in specific situations. For example, you might think it is wrong to feel
gleeful when someone you dislike is hurt. This is known as “the pinch,” which is a discrepancy between
what we feel and what we think we should feel (Hochschild, 1979, 1983). If you feel gleeful about
another’s bad luck, you might engage in emotion work in an effort to make yourself feel sad.
Typically, what we think we should feel is based on what we’ve learned from our social groups and the
larger culture. Social groups teach us what feelings are appropriate in particular situations. For example,
Clifton Scott and Karen Meyers (2005) found that firefighters engage in emotion work to manage
feelings such as fear and disgust, which can interfere with controlling damage and providing medical
help to victims of fires. Katherine Miller (2007) reports that human service workers engage in emotion
work with clients—showing that they notice clients’ lives, demonstrating empathy and personcenteredness, and responding in supportive ways.
People who have been socialized in multiple cultures or social communities with different values may be
especially vulnerable to feeling “the pinch.” Kimberly Gangwish (1999) describes Asian American women
as “living in two worlds” in terms of their emotions and how they express them. First-generation Asian
American women said they knew that, in the United States, it was acceptable to feel angry and upset,
but they couldn’t express those feelings because Asian cultures frown on expressing negative emotions.
In my native country, students are supposed to be respectful of teachers and never speak out in class. It
has been hard for me to learn to feel I have a right to ask questions of a professor here. Sometimes I have
a question or I do not agree with a professor, but I have to work to tell myself it is okay to assert myself.
To me, it still feels disrespectful to speak up.
We do emotion work to suppress or eliminate feelings we think are wrong (for example, feeling happy
over the misfortune of someone you dislike). We also engage in emotion work to cultivate feelings we
think we should have, such as prodding yourself to feel joy a friend got a job even though you did not.
As Donna Vocate (1994) notes, much of our emotion work takes place through self-talk or intrapersonal
communication. We try to talk ourselves into feeling what we think is appropriate and out of feeling
what we think is inappropriate. In addition, we often talk to friends to figure out whether our feelings
are appropriate—we rely on friends to help us reduce uncertainty about feelings (Heise, 1999; Milardo,
In the interactive view of emotions, framing rules, feeling rules, and emotion work are interrelated (see
Figure 7.4). Framing rules that define the emotional meaning of situations lead to feeling rules that tell
us what we should feel or have a right to feel in a given context. If we don’t feel what our feeling rules
designate we should, we may engage in emotion work to squelch inappropriate feelings or to bring
about feelings that we think suit the circumstances. We then express our feelings by following rules for
appropriate expression of particular emotions in specific contexts.
Figure 7.4The Interactive View of Emotions
The interactive view of emotions emphasizes the impact of social factors on how we perceive, label, and
respond emotionally to experiences in our lives. One strength of this model is that it acknowledges
cultural differences in feelings and their expression.
Which of the four views of emotions you endorse has implications for how much you think you can
control what you feel and how you express our feelings in everyday life. If you agree with the organismic
view of emotions, then you will assume that feelings cannot be managed. Whatever you feel, you feel.
That’s it. On the other hand, if you accept the interactive view of emotions, you are more likely to think
you can analyze your feelings and perhaps change them and your expression of them through emotion
work. The interactive view assumes you have some power over what you feel and how you act. If you
agree with this perspective, you are more likely to monitor your feelings and to make choices about how
to communicate them.
We may not have total control over what we feel, but usually we can exert some control. Furthermore,
we can exercise substantial control over how we do or don’t express our feelings and to whom we
express them. Taking personal responsibility for when, how, and to whom you express feelings is a
cornerstone of ethical interpersonal communication (Anderson & Guerrero, 1998; Fridlund, 1994;
Philippot & Feldman, 2004).
Obstacles to Communicating Emotions Effectively
Skill in recognizing and expressing emotions is important to interpersonal competence, yet many of us
repress feelings or express them inappropriately. Let’s consider why we may not express emotions and
then discuss some of the ineffective ways people express emotions.
Reasons We May Not Express Emotions
Researchers have identified four common reasons people don’t communicate their emotions. As we
discuss each reason, reflect on whether you rely on it in your own emotional expression.
Cultural and Social Expectations
As we have noted, what we feel and how we express it are influenced by the culture and social groups
to which we belong. Gender socialization seems particularly important in shaping feelings and the
expression of them. In the United States, men are expected to be more restrained than women in
expressing most emotions (Burgoon & Bacue, 2003; Guerrero et al., 2006b), yet men are allowed to
express anger, which is often disapproved of in women. In Italy and other countries, men routinely
express a range of emotions dramatically and openly.
In societies that teach men the feeling rule that they should not feel or express a great many emotions,
some men may suppress feelings or avoid expressing them. Over time, men who do this may become
alienated from their feelings, unable to recognize what they do feel, because society has taught them
that they shouldn’t experience a great many feelings.
Most of the time, I pretty much keep my feelings to myself like other guys do. But last spring one of my
closest friends gave birth to a little girl. When I visited at the hospital and was holding the baby, she told
me she wanted me to be her daughter’s godfather. That blew me away and the next thing I knew I was
crying and telling this little baby that I loved her. It was sort of embarrassing, but not too much. I’m glad
none of the guys were with me, though.
Women face different restrictions than men on the feelings society considers it appropriate for them to
express. Women are generally taught that anger is unattractive and undesirable in women (Tavris,
1989). Thus, many women are constrained by the feeling rule that they should not feel anger and that, if
they do, they should not express it directly. This discourages women from acknowledging legitimate
anger and expressing it constructively.
Another feeling rule that is learned by many Western women is to care about others (Eisenberg, 2002;
Taylor, 2002). Thus, many women engage in emotion work in an attempt to make themselves feel caring
(via deep acting) when they don’t naturally feel that way.
Women may also squelch feelings of jealousy toward friends and feelings of competitiveness in personal
and professional relationships. Because most Western women are taught that they should support
others, they often feel that they shouldn’t experience or express envy or competitiveness. Not being
able to express or even acknowledge such feelings can interfere with honest communication in
A second reason we may not express our feelings is that we don’t want to give others information that
could affect how they perceive or act toward us. We fear that someone will like us less if we say that we
feel angry with him or her. We worry that coworkers will lose respect for us if our nonverbal behaviors
show that we feel weak or scared. We fear that if we disclose how deeply we feel about another person,
she or he will reject us.
Communication in Everyday Life:Diversity
Sugar and Spice and Bullying!
“Sugar and spice and everything nice” is not the whole picture about girls. Recently, scholars’ tracking of
adolescent girls’ bullying (Simmons, 2002, 2004; Underwood, 2003) shows that many young girls engage
in social aggression toward other girls, and they do so using distinctly feminine rules for expressing
aggression. Unlike physical aggression, which is common among boys, social aggression is usually
indirect, even covert. It takes forms such as spreading hurtful rumors, social exclusion, and encouraging
others to turn against a particular girl. Why do young girls rely on indirect and social strategies of
aggression? One reason appears to be that, even at young ages, girls understand that they are supposed
to be nice to everyone, so they fear that being overtly mean to others would lead to disapproval or
punishment. They’re taught to soften their opinions and to accommodate others, particularly males
(Berger, 2006; Deveny, 2009). Girls learn not to stand up to boys at school because they fear being
called “bitch” (Bennett, Ellison, & Ball, 2010; Deveny, 2009). Instead of learning how to manage anger
openly, young girls learn to express it indirectly.
We may also restrain expression of feelings, particularly negative ones, because of what is known as the
chilling effect. When we have a relationship with someone whom we perceive as more powerful than
us, we may suppress complaints and expressions of dissatisfaction or anger because we fear that the
more powerful person could punish us. We might fear a parent will withhold privileges, a supervisor
could fire us, or a coach would sideline us. How the other person might use his or her power against us
has a chilling effect on our willingness to express our feelings honestly.
Another reason we often choose not to express feelings is that we fear we could hurt or upset others or
cause them to lose face. Sometimes we make an ethical choice not to express emotions that would hurt
another person and not achieve any positive outcome. Choosing not to express emotions in some
situations or to some people can be constructive and generous, as Tara’s commentary illustrates.
My best friend, Fran, is a marriage saver. When I’m really angry with my husband, I vent to her. If there’s
a really serious problem between me and Al, I talk with him. But a lot of times I’m upset over little stuff. I
know what I’m feeling isn’t going to last and isn’t any serious problem in our marriage, but I may be
seething anyway. Letting those feelings out to Fran gets them off my chest without hurting Al or our
The tendency to restrain emotional expression to protect others is particularly strong in many Asian
cultures because they view hurting others as shameful (Johnson, 2000; Min, 1995; Ting-Toomey &
Oetzel, 2002; Yamamoto, 1995). Traditional Asian cultures also view conflict as damaging to social
relationships, so they discourage emotional expressions that might lead to conflict (Johnson, 2000; TingToomey & Oetzel, 2002).
Yet Asians and people of Asian descent are not the only ones who want to protect relationships from
tension that can arise from emotional expression. If a friend of yours behaves in ways you consider
irresponsible, you may refrain from expressing your disapproval because you don’t want to provoke
tension between you. Totally open and unrestrained expression of feeling isn’t necessarily a good idea.
Sometimes it is both wise and kind not to express feelings. It’s often not productive to vent minor
frustrations and annoyances. If someone we care about is already overburdened with anxiety or
emotional problems, we may choose not to express our emotions so that the other person doesn’t have
to respond to our feelings at the moment. Thus, there can be good reasons not to show or discuss
feelings, or not to show or discuss them at a given time.
Last week, I got rejected by the law school that was my top choice. Normally, I would have gone over to
Jason’s apartment to hang out with him and let him boost me up. Ever since we met freshman year,
we’ve been tight friends, and we talk about everything in our lives. But right now, Jason’s struggling with
his own stuff. His mother just got diagnosed with cancer, and his father is out of work. I know we’ll talk
about my disappointment some time, but I figured it could wait until he gets into a better place.
Ishmael’s commentary provides a good example of an instance in which it is more caring not to express
feelings. Yet we would be mistaken to think it’s always a good idea to keep feelings to ourselves.
Avoiding the expression of feelings can be harmful if those feelings directly affect our relationships with
others or if doing so may threaten our own health. Susan Schmanoff (1987) found that intimacy wanes
when a couple’s communication consistently lacks emotional disclosures, even unpleasant ones. If not
expressing feelings is likely to create barriers in relationships or to cause us serious personal distress,
then we should try to find a context and mode of expression that allow us to communicate our
emotions. The physical and psychological impact of denying or repressing emotions over the long term
can harm you and your relationships (Pennebaker, 1997; Schmanoff, 1987).
Social and Professional Roles
A final reason we may not express some feelings is that our roles make it inappropriate. An attorney or
judge who cries when hearing a sad story from a witness might be perceived as unprofessional. A doctor
or nurse who expresses anger toward a patient might be regarded as unprofessional. Police officers and
social workers might be judged to be out of line if they express animosity instead of objective
detachment when investigating a crime.
It’s hard to imagine an attorney who is more professional in her demeanor than Alicia Florrick, Julianna
Margulies’s character in The Good Wife.
We’ve identified four common reasons we may not express our emotions. Although we can understand
all of them, they are not equally constructive in their consequences. There is no simple rule for when to
express feelings. Instead, we must exercise judgment. We have an ethical obligation to make thoughtful
choices about whether, when, and how to express our feelings. As a responsible communicator, you
should strive to decide when it is necessary, appropriate, and constructive to express your feelings,
keeping in mind that you, others, and relationships will be affected by your decision.
The Ineffective Expression of Emotions
We don’t always deny or repress our emotions. Sometimes, we are aware of having a particular feeling,
and we try to express it, but our effort isn’t very successful. We’ll look at three of the most common
forms of ineffective emotional expression.
Communication in Everyday Life:Workplace
EQ on the Job
Many business executives think it would be great to have intelligent machines. Just think—if we
perfected artificial intelligence, we could have machines that work 24 hours a day without making
mistakes, without complaining about the long hours, and without the kinds of emotional needs and
problems that cause personnel troubles.
Hold on a minute, says Dan Davies (2006) in an article published in Business Leader magazine. According
to Davies, “emotions give us meaning and purpose. They connect us to our community, each other, and,
if properly motivated, to our work”. And emotions also allow humans to come up with ideas, solutions,
and plans that are outside of the logic by which machines operate. Davies wisely notes, “it was Luke
Skywalker, not R2-D2, and Captain Kirk, not Mr. Spock who, in the end, had the best solutions to the
most serious problems”.
David Brooks (2009) agrees. He says “Emotions move us toward things and ideas. People without
emotions cannot make sensible decisions because they don’t know how much anything is worth. People
without social emotions like empathy are not objective decision-makers”.
Speaking in Generalities
“I feel bad.” “I’m happy.” “I’m sad.” Statements such as these do express emotional states, but they do
so ineffectively. Why? Because they are so general and abstract that they don’t clearly communicate
what the speaker feels. Does “I feel bad” mean the person feels depressed, angry, guilty, ashamed, or
anxious? Does “I’m happy” mean the speaker is in love, pleased with a grade, satisfied at having
received a promotion, delighted to be eating chocolate, or thrilled about an upcoming vacation? When
we use general, abstract emotional language, we aren’t communicating effectively about what we feel.
Also, our nonverbal repertoire for expressing emotions may be limited. Withdrawing from interaction
may be an expression of sadness, anger, depression, or fear. Lowering our head and eyes may express a
range of emotions, including reverence, shame, and thoughtfulness. We are capable of experiencing
many, many emotions. Yet most of us recognize or express only a small number. In Anger: The Struggle
for Emotional Control in America’s History (1986), Carol Stearns and Peter Stearns report that people in
the United States recognize only a few of the emotions humans can experience, and they express those
emotions whenever they feel something. An acquaintance of mine says, “I’m frustrated” when he is
angry, confused, hurt, anxious, disappointed, and so forth. In the example that opened this chapter, I
said I felt angry when hurt would have more accurately described my feeling. A limited emotional
vocabulary restricts our ability to communicate clearly with others (Lama & Eckman, 2009; Saarni, 1999).
Not Owning Feelings
Stating feelings in a way that disowns personal responsibility is one of the most common obstacles to
effective expression of emotions (Proctor, 1991). Our discussion of I language and you language in
Chapter 4 is relevant to learning to express emotions effectively.
“You make me angry” states a feeling (although the word angry may be overly general). Yet this
statement relies on you language, which suggests that somebody other than the speaker is the source or
cause of the angry feeling. Others certainly say and do things that affect us; they may even do things to
us. But we—not anyone else—decide what their actions mean, and we—not anyone else—are
responsible for our feelings.
How could we use I language to revise the statement, “You make me angry”? We could change it to this:
“I feel angry when you don’t call when you say you will.” The statement would be even more effective—
clearer and more precise—if the speaker said, “I feel hurt and insecure when you don’t call when you
say you will.” And the statement would be still more effective if it included information about what the
speaker wants from the other person: “I feel hurt and insecure when you don’t call when you say you
will. Would you be willing to call if we agree that it’s okay for calls to be short sometimes?” This
statement accepts responsibility for a feeling, communicates clearly what is felt, and offers a solution
that could help the relationship.
Communication in Everyday Life:Workplace
What the ###!!***! Is Going On at This **@@#!!! Company?
Foul language seems pervasive these days. The former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is
infamous for it, as is Jon Stewart. But in the workplace, foul language can interfere with success. Only
10% of business owners in a national survey think cursing on the job is justified. But how do you stop it?
Jim O’Connor has a suggestion: Hire CussControl, the company he founded to do interventions in
organizations. O’Connor says that swearing marks employees as not being in control of their emotions,
so his approach is to teach them how to figure out why they are swearing and then address the root
cause of their emotions (Stafford, 2009).
Counterfeit Emotional Language
A third ineffective form of emotional communication is relying on counterfeit emotional language. This
is language that seems to express emotions but does not actually describe what a person is feeling. For
example, shouting “Why can’t you leave me alone?” certainly indicates that the speaker is feeling
something, but it doesn’t describe what she or he is feeling. Is it anger at a particular person, frustration
at being interrupted, stress at having to meet a deadline, or the need for time alone? We can’t tell what
feeling the speaker is experiencing from what he or she said.
Effective communicators provide clear descriptions of their feelings and the connection between their
feelings and others’ behaviors. “I feel frustrated because when I’m working and you walk in, I lose my
train of thought” is a more constructive statement than “Why can’t you leave me alone?” The first
statement communicates what is troubling you and states that it is situation-specific.
It’s also unproductive not to explain feelings. “That’s just how I feel” doesn’t tell a person how her or his
behavior is related to your feelings or what you would like her or him to do. Sometimes, we say, “That’s
just how I feel” because we haven’t really figured out why we feel as we do or what we want from
another person. In such cases, we should take responsibility for understanding what’s going on inside
ourselves before we ask others to understand. Only when you can identify situations and your
emotional reactions to them can you communicate clearly to others (Planalp, 1997).
Another form of counterfeit emotional language uses feeling words but really expresses thoughts: “I feel
this discussion is getting sidetracked.” The perception that a discussion is going off on a tangent is a
thought, not a feeling. Maybe the speaker feels frustrated that the discussion seems to be wandering,
but that feeling is not communicated by the statement.
The three types of ineffective emotional communication we’ve considered give us insight into some of
the more common ways we may evade—consciously or not—clear and honest communication about
our feelings. In the final section of this chapter, we consider specific ways to communicate our feelings
effectively and constructively and to respond sensitively to others’ communication about their
Social Media and Emotions
What we have learned about emotions is relevant to digital and online communication in several ways.
First, the reasons we may not express emotions in f2f interaction may also operate when we use social
media. We may think it is socially unacceptable to express some feelings online, we may choose not to
express them to protect ourselves or others, or we may realize that our roles make it inappropriate to
express some emotions. When we are communicating with friends, coworkers, and family members any
of these reasons may lead us not to express emotions. Yet we may be more likely to express emotions,
including ones that are socially inappropriate, when we are communicating with people we don’t know
personally. The anonymity of social media emboldens some people to post rants, hate speech, and other
offensive comments that they would probably never say f2f. In other words, we may be less inhibited by
social norms when we are communicating online and digitally.
Second, social media may help us experience and express feelings. When something sad or shocking
happens, we like to connect with people who are likely to share our feelings about what happened.
After pop star Michael Jackson died, fans went online to grieve together. Research showed that fans
found the content provided by YouTube helped them express their feelings and grieve (Lee, 2013).
Similarly, many people find like-minded communities to celebrate happy events (the wedding of Prince
Charles and Princess Kate) or make sense of violence (campus shootings).
Third, social media can become substitutes for emotional involvement with people in our f2f
relationships. It can be easier to turn to an online acquaintance than your real-life friends or partners
when you need emotional connection. We can say what we want and no more than we want, which is
not always possible in f2f conversations. It can become easier and less emotionally threatening to turn
toward online acquaintances than f2f friends. The more we share our feelings online, however, the
more likely we are to feel closer to our virtual acquaintances than our f2f ones. It’s a self-fulfilling
prophecy. While relying on online acquaintances may satisfy immediate needs for emotional
connection, there is the danger of becoming more involved with the online acquaintance than the
people with whom you have f2f relationships.
Guidelines for Communicating Emotions Effectively
What we’ve explored so far in this chapter suggests several guidelines for becoming skilled at
communicating our feelings. In this section, we extend our discussion to identify six guidelines for
effective communication of emotions.
Identify Your Emotions
Before you can communicate emotions effectively, you must be able to identify what you feel. As we
have seen, this isn’t always easy. For reasons we’ve discussed, people may be alienated from their
emotions or unclear about what they feel, especially if they are experiencing multiple emotions at once.
To become more aware of your emotions, give mindful attention to your inner self. Just as we can learn
to ignore our feelings, we can teach ourselves to notice and heed them.
Sometimes, identifying our emotions requires us to sort out complex mixtures of feelings. For example,
we sometimes feel both anxious and hopeful. To recognize only that you feel hopeful is to overlook the
anxiety. To realize only that you feel anxious is to disregard the hope you also feel. Recognizing the
existence of both feelings allows you to tune in to yourself and to communicate accurately to others
what you are experiencing.
When sorting out intermingled feelings, it’s useful to identify the primary or main feeling—the one that
is dominant in the moment. Doing this allows you to communicate clearly to others what is most
important in your emotional state. Think back to the example that opened this chapter. I had said I felt
angry that Carolyn didn’t seem to have time for me. I did feel anger, but that wasn’t my primary
emotion. Hurt was the dominant feeling, and it was the one I communicated to Carolyn. This gave her an
understanding of what I felt that was more accurate than if I’d told her I felt angry.
Choose Whether and How to Express Emotions
Once you know what you feel, you can consider choices about expressing your emotions. The first
choice is whether you want to communicate your emotions to particular people. As we noted in the
previous section, sometimes it is both wise and compassionate not to tell someone what you feel. You
may decide that expressing particular emotions would hurt others and would not accomplish anything
positive. This is not the same thing as not expressing emotions just to avoid tension, because tension
between people can foster growth in individuals and relationships.
We may also decide not to communicate emotions because we prefer to keep some of our feelings
private. This is a reasonable choice if the feelings we keep to ourselves are not ones that other people
need to know in order to understand us and to be in satisfying relationships with us. We don’t have a
responsibility to bare our souls to everyone, nor are we required to disclose all our feelings, even to our
If you decide you do want to communicate your emotions, then you should assess the different ways
you might do that and select the one that seems likely to be most effective. Four guidelines can help you
decide how to express emotions. First, evaluate your current state. If you are really upset, you may not
be able to express yourself clearly and fairly. In moments of extreme emotion, our perceptions may be
distorted, and we may say things we don’t mean. Remember that communication is irreversible—we
cannot unsay what we have said. According to Daniel Goleman (1995b), it takes about 20 minutes for us
to cleanse our minds and bodies of anger. Thus, if you are really angry, you may want to wait until
you’ve cooled down so that you can discuss your feelings more fruitfully.
The second step is to decide to whom you want to express your feelings. Often, we want to
communicate our emotions to the people they concern—the person with whom we are upset or whose
understanding we seek. Yet sometimes we don’t want to talk to the person who is the target of our
feelings. In cases such as these, it may be useful to find someone else to whom you can safely express
your feelings without harming the person about whom you have them.
When I didn’t get a promotion, I was ready to blow my top. But I knew better than to blow it around my
boss or anyone at the company. Nope, I said I was sick and left for the day and called a friend who works
at home. We met for lunch, and she let me just blow off steam with her in a place that wouldn’t hurt me
on the job.
Next, select an appropriate time to discuss feelings. Most of us are able to listen and respond skillfully
when we are not preoccupied, defensive, stressed, rushed, or tired. Generally, it’s not productive to
launch a discussion of feelings when we lack the time or energy to focus on the conversation. It may be
better to defer discussion until you and the other person have the psychological and physical resources
to engage mindfully.
Finally, select an appropriate setting for discussing feelings. Many feelings can be expressed well in a
variety of settings. For instance, it would be appropriate to tell a friend you felt happy while strolling
with him through a shopping mall, walking on campus, or in a private conversation. However, it might
not be constructive to tell a friend you feel angry or disappointed in her in a public setting. Doing so
could make the other person feel as though she’s on display, which might arouse defensiveness, making
it less likely that the two of you can have a constructive, open discussion of feelings. Many people say
that they feel freer to express emotions honestly online than in face-to-face communication. However,
some people really dislike communicating about personal topics online. So, before choosing to discuss
emotions online, make sure the other person is comfortable with that.
In her book, How Doctors Feel (2013), Dr. Danielle Ofri offers an honest account of feelings that doctors
experience in the course of practicing medicine: grief over patients who die, shame over medical
mistakes, joy at births and successful treatments, and bitterness over medical malpractice lawsuits. She
writes that most doctors try to compartmentalize their feelings, but that strategy often fails as emotions
flood doctors’ daily lives and cause internal turmoil. Doctors fare better when they are able to identify
their feelings and express them in appropriate contexts that do not upset patients or other medical
Own Your Feelings
We noted the importance of owning your emotions in Chapter 4 and again in this chapter’s discussion of
ineffective ways of communicating feelings. Owning your feelings is so important to effective
communication that the guideline bears repeating: Using I language to express feelings reminds us that
we—not anyone else—have responsibility for our feelings. When we rely on you language (“You hurt
me”), we risk misleading ourselves about our accountability for our emotions.
I language also reduces the potential for defensiveness by focusing on specific behaviors that we would
like changed (“I feel hurt when you interrupt me”) instead of criticizing another’s basic self (“You are so
rude”). Criticisms of specific behaviors are less likely to threaten a person’s self-concept than criticisms
of our personality or self (Cupach & Carlson, 2002). Thus, when we use I language to describe how we
feel when another behaves in particular ways, the other person is more able to listen thoughtfully and
respond sensitively to our expression of emotion.
Monitor Your Self-Talk
A fourth guideline is to monitor your self-talk. You’ll recall from Chapter 2 that the ways we
communicate with ourselves affect how we feel and act. Self-talk is communication with ourselves. We
engage in self-talk when we do emotion work. We might say, “I shouldn’t feel angry” or “I don’t want to
come across as a wimp by showing how much that hurt.” Thus, we may talk ourselves out of or into
feelings and out of or into ways of expressing feelings.
Psychologist Martin Seligman (1990) believes that “our thoughts are not merely reactions to events;
they change what ensues”. In other words, the thoughts we communicate to ourselves affect what
happens in our lives. Self-talk can work for us or against us, depending on whether we manage it or it
manages us. This point is stressed by Tom Rusk and Natalie Rusk in their book Mind Traps (1988). They
point out that many people have self-defeating ideas that get in the way of their effectiveness and
happiness. According to the Rusks, unless we learn to manage our feelings effectively, we cannot change
patterns of behavior that leave us stuck in ruts, which can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Tuning in to
your self-talk and learning to monitor it helps you manage your emotions.
Adopt a Rational–Emotive Approach to Feelings
Monitoring your self-talk allows you to appreciate the connections between thoughts and feelings. As
Sally Planalp and Julie Fitness (2000) point out, “Cognition relies on emotion, emotion relies on
cognition”. Thus, how we think about feelings affects our feelings. The relationship between thoughts
and feelings led a therapist named Albert Ellis to develop the rational–emotive approach to feelings.
Ellis was known for his dramatic style and for pushing, pushing, pushing his clients. He firmly believed
that people whom many clinicians diagnosed as neurotic were not neurotic but only suffering from
irrational thinking. He often described this as stupid thinking on the part of smart people (Ellis, 1962;
Ellis & Harper, 1975; Seligman, 1990).
The rational–emotive approach to feelings uses rational thinking and self-talk to challenge the
debilitating thoughts about emotions that undermine healthy self-concepts and relationships. The
rational–emotive approach to feelings proceeds through four steps.
The first step is to monitor your emotional reactions to events and experiences that distress you. Notice
what’s happening in your body; notice your nonverbal behavior. Does your stomach tighten? Are you
clenching your teeth? Is your heart racing? Do you feel nauseated?
The second step is to identify the events and situations to which you have unpleasant responses. Look
for commonalities between situations. For example, perhaps you notice that your heart races and your
palms get clammy when you talk with professors, supervisors, and academic advisers, but you don’t
have these physiological responses when you interact with friends, coworkers, or people whom you
supervise. You label your emotions as insecurity in the former cases and security in the latter ones. One
commonality between the situations in which you feel insecure is the greater power of the other
person. This could suggest that you feel insecure when talking with someone who has more power than
The third step is to tune in to your self-talk (Vocate, 1994). Listen to what’s happening in your head.
What is your Me saying? Is it telling you that you shouldn’t feel certain emotions? Is it telling you to
deny your feelings? Is it telling you that you have to be totally perfect all the time or that you are
helpless to change matters? We need to identify and challenge debilitating ways of thinking about our
emotions, and, by extension, ourselves. These irrational beliefs, or fallacies, hinder our ability to manage
and express emotions effectively.
We can use our self-talk to challenge the debilitating fallacies. For example, assume that Tyronne has
been working well at his job and thinks his boss should give him a raise. He tunes in to his self-talk (step
3) and hears himself saying, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t ask for a raise, because, after all, I have made
some mistakes. I could do better.” This self-talk reflects the fallacy of perfectionism. Tyronne listens
further to himself and hears this message: “If I ask him for a raise, and he gets angry, he might fire me,
and then I wouldn’t have a job and couldn’t stay in school. Without a degree, I have no future.” This selftalk exemplifies the fear of catastrophic failure.
How might Tyronne dispute these fallacies? To challenge the perfectionism fallacy, he could say, “True,
I’m not perfect, but I’m doing more and better work than the other employees hired at the same time I
was.” To dispute the fallacy of catastrophic failure, Tyronne might say to himself, “Well, he’s not likely to
fire me, because I do my job well, and training someone new would be a lot of trouble. And what if he
does fire me? It’s not like this is the only job in the world. I could get another job pretty fast.” Instead of
letting debilitating fallacies defeat us, we can use our self-talk to question and challenge the irrational
thinking that undermines us.
Respond Sensitively When Others Communicate Emotions
A final guideline is to respond sensitively when others express their feelings to you. Learning to
communicate your emotions effectively is only half the process of communicating about emotions. You
also want to become skilled in listening and responding to others when they share feelings with you.
This skill is important not only in personal relationships but also in workplace relationships (Kanov,
Maitlis, Worline, Dutton, Frost, & Lilus, 2004; Miller, 2007).
When others express feelings, our first tendency may be to respond with general statements, such as
“Time heals all wounds,” “You shouldn’t feel bad,” “You’ll be fine,” or “You’ll feel better once you get
this into perspective.” Although such statements may be intended to provide reassurance, in effect they
tell others that they aren’t allowed to feel what they are feeling, or that they will be okay (right, normal)
once they stop feeling what they are feeling.
Another common mistake in responding to others’ expression of feelings is to try to solve the other
person’s problem so the feelings will go away. Research suggests that the tendency to try to solve
others’ problems is more common in men than women (Swain, 1989; Tannen, 1990). Helping another
solve a problem may be appreciated, but usually it’s not the first support a person needs when she or he
is expressing strong emotions. What many people need first is just the freedom to say what they are
feeling and have those feelings accepted by others. Probably because of socialization, women are
generally more skilled than men at providing solace, comfort, and emotional support (Basow &
Rubenfeld, 2003; MacGeorge, Gillihan, Samter, & Clark, 2003; MacGeorge, Graves, Feng, Gillihan, &
When others express emotions to you, it’s supportive to begin by showing you are willing to discuss
emotional topics. Next, accept where they are as a starting place. You don’t have to agree or approve to
accept what another is feeling. While listening, it’s helpful to interject a few minimal encouragers, which
we discussed in Chapter 6. Saying “I understand” or “Go on” conveys that you accept the other person’s
feelings and want him or her to continue talking. It’s appropriate to mention your own experiences
briefly to show that you empathize. However, it’s not supportive to refocus the conversation on you and
Paraphrasing, which we discussed in Chapter 6, is another way to show that you understand what
another feels. When you mirror back not just the content but the feeling of what another says, it
confirms the other and what he or she feels. “So, it sounds as if you were really surprised by what
happened. Is that right?” “What I’m hearing is that you are more hurt than angry. Does that sound right
to you?” These examples of paraphrasing allow you to check on your perception of the speaker’s
feelings and also show that you are listening actively.
The guidelines we’ve identified may not always make emotional communication easy and comfortable.
However, following them will help you understand and express your feelings and respond effectively
when others discuss theirs. To practice expressing emotions effectively and to identify ineffective
expressions of emotion, go to your Online Resources for Interpersonal Communication: Everyday
Encounters and complete the activity “Express Emotions Effectively” under the resources for Chapter 7.
In this chapter, we explored the complex world of emotions and our communications about them. We
considered different views of what’s involved in experiencing and expressing emotions. From our review
of theories, we learned that emotions have physiological, perceptual, linguistic, and social dimensions.
We also examined some of the reasons people don’t express feelings or express them ineffectively both
in f2f interactions and on social media. We discussed the tendency of some people to engage in
emotionally inappropriate communication online and in social media, and we noted that social media
provide virtual communities that may help us experience and express emotions. The final focus of our
attention was on guidelines for effective communication about emotions. Because these guidelines are
critical to interpersonal communication, we’ll close the chapter by restating them:
1. Identify your emotions.
2. Choose how to communicate your emotions.
3. Own your feelings.
4. Monitor your self-talk.
5. Adopt a rational–emotive approach to emotions.
6. Respond sensitively when others communicate emotions.
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