Communicating Emotion Intelligently

Think of the pieces as tools, like a drill or mallet. At first, they are hard to use, but become easier with practice and guidance. It is interesting to note that: Emotional Intelligence predicts higher work performance better than I.Q. (cognitive intelligence), leadership is largely an emotional intelligence, and Emotional Intelligence is one of the best predictors of divorce and marital satisfaction.

Tool:  Move away from the ledge, onto the flowered field
Tool:  Choose to be powerful
Tool:  Helpful phrases
Tool:  Strategies to Begin Conversation
Tool:  Avoid the “4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse”
Tool:  Awareness of Sarcasm
Tool:  Giving Advice
Tool:  Instead of “I’m sorry” or “I’m busy”
Closing Meditations

Tool:  Move away from the ledge, onto the flowered field

Reflect the emotion

Reflect back the emotion.  Allows for venting.
Child says, “I hate Jimmy!  He broke my candle!”
Counselor says, “Sounds like you’re really mad because he broke your candle.”
When the emotion is labeled and acknowledged, people feel understood and reason can sometimes reign again.  Sometimes the emotional level/intensity needs to be matched to a degree so they feel felt.


Confirms the value and meaningfulness of another’s experience and helps the person to feel safe.  Allows for venting of steam, so that the person can let go of anger or frustration or other strong feelings and start problem solving.  It is not talking someone out of their feelings, making everything better, solving a problem, or explaining things.  Validating someone else’s experience does not invalidate our own experience. 
“I understand what you’re saying.”                 “You’re really wanting to be with your mother.”
“It’s okay to feel that way.”                              “Oh, that sounds really tough.”
“Wow, that’s a lot to deal with.”                      “Yeah, you felt like you were really being clear.”

Reframing the content

Reflect the message back so that the content is the same, but you take the sting out.  Receive the daggers and hand them back a bouquet of flowers.  Doing so can help the emotional person out of their fixed position and into a problem-solving mode.
“He is a lying son of a bitch.”  “The truth is important to you. You think he is not telling the whole story.”   “She is a lazy slob.”  “You would like her to clean her side of the cabin more often.  Cleanliness is important to you.”

I Statements

  • Idea = take responsibility for your feelings and thoughts.  Absent of evaluation, diagnosis, or assumptions.
    Reality = it is very possible to use I statements violently.  For example:
    I feel angry when you’re inconsiderate because you took my last soda.
    I’m sad when you’re an asshole and I need you to stop being stupid.
    So = utilize NVC as a framework for your self-expression, which helps tap into the heart of I Statements.

Approaches with Conflict

Refuse to deal with conflict, be unassertive, uncooperative. Outcome: hostility, resentment; discontent; gossiping/ complaining; escalated problem. DIRTY COMMUNICATION Be unassertive, yet cooperate, give in to other at own expense.  Outcome: Resentment or anger for one toward other; insecurity; feeling of failure; frustration. DIRTY COMMUNICATION Be assertive, yet uncooperative, have strong desire to be “winner,” with less concern for other party.
Outcome: rebellion; little support gained.
Balance assertiveness and cooperation, give and take to reach mutual agreement.
Outcome: better commitment to solution; better relationship.  Not taking other perspective, especially to heart
Be assertive and cooperative; work toward best possible outcome for all, seek win-win solution.
Outcome: same as compromise & solution incorporates perspectives.  Understood; hold other as self.

Active Listening

Eye contact Helpful unless other is uncomfortable with it
Voice tone Matching voice tone can help build rapport
Gestures Ditto
Body language Ditto
Minimal verbalizing Speak when there is a pause, and an implicit request.  Be comfortable with a few seconds of silence before reflecting/validating/reframing/asking a question. Note that the symbol below does not have speaking as a part of it.
Clarifying questions See “Reading Minds” in the NVC section.
Touch When implicitly or explicitly invited.  Test response.

Marshall Rosenberg on being present.

Empathy, I would say is presence. Pure presence to what is alive in a person at this moment, bringing nothing in from the past. The more you know a person, the harder empathy is. The more you have studied psychology, the harder empathy really is. Because you can bring no thinking in from the past. If you surf, you’d be better at empathy because you will have built into your body what it is about. Being present and getting in touch with the energy that is coming through you in the present. It is not a mental understanding.

In empathy, you don’t speak at all. You speak with the eyes. You speak with the body. If you say any words at all, it’s because you are not sure you are with the person. So you may say some words. But the words are not empathy. Empathy is when the other person feels the connection to with what’s alive in you.

More Communication Tools

Again, all the tools hereafter and before are to be considered options . . . a hammer, a saw, a wrench.  You choose which tool to use and when.  There isn’t necessarily a best one, even for a specific situation.  The more tools in your belt, the more situations you’ll be able to handle adeptly and with flexibility.

Tool:  Choose to be powerful (antidote to dirty communication #4)

  1. Ask for 100% of what you want, 100% of the time
  2. Be prepared to hear no
  3. Negotiate the difference

Tool:  Helpful phrases

Olive branch statement
“You know what, I want you to win, and I want to win too.”

Attractive requests
How is this other person going to win with me?
It would really be great if . . . .
I would feel so much better if . . . .
Avoid “You Never”    “You don’t”    “You should”
If you slap them, they might slap you back, wish they could, or silently stew

Use most “Journalistic Questions”

What are you feeling
just happened
is going on here
do you need from me right now
can I do to help us work this out
How are you doing
can we both win here
are you feeling
Where would be a good time are you
When would be a good time
Who can help us

Other seeking understanding and connection options

Tell me more about…
Help me understand…
I’m noticing… does that sound right to you?
Would you please tell me your intention when you said…?
Ideally, what would you like me to do with that information?
I really appreciate your…(intention/behavior)… can you guess where I’m coming from?
I really get (your feelings and needs). . .would you tell me your understanding of my feelings & needs?
Would you spend some time with me trying to come up with solutions that would work for both of us?
Would you tell me how you’re feeling about what I just said?

Tool:  Strategies to Begin Conversation

Move from certainty to curiosity

Understand the other person’s story
How does it make sense from their point of view
Judgments, interpretations, perceptions – transform those into observations

Adopt a “both” or “and” stance

Both stories matter.  Impact and intention matter.
Move from truth to perceptions.

Acknowledge your own contribution to the situation without blame

Blame and punishment create fear and defensiveness, interfering with learning and change.
Accusations are conclusions.  Guess both your own and others feelings & needs.  Be openly curious.

Be clear in intention and speaking

Avoid using questions to express your own opinion or to entrap others.  Opinions are not facts.
Ask yourself, “Are coaxing, threatening, or punishing part of my thoughts?”
Are you concluded before speaking?  Can the “?” mark be straightened to a “.” or “!”
Do: “Correct me if I’m wrong, but . . .”  “Aren’t you saying . . .”  “Isn’t that like . . .”
Do:  Reflect the emotion; validating their feelings, needs and experience;
reflect on the Non-Violent-Communication model and questions.
Tool:  Avoid the “4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse”

This phrase is a biblical reference; the Four Horsemen are the forces of man’s destruction.  In this case, picture four black horses and four horsemen in black, riding across an open, barren desert.  When they hear their names (below), they will ride closer to you.  Based on John Gottman’s, PhD, Relationship Research.  Notable for ability to almost perfectly predict relationship failure based on a few key principles, like the presence of the below.


Complaining and whining are not helpful, but suggesting/telling someone that there is actually something wrong with them is acidic.  You’re saying that the person you’re speaking to or about has some trait or character flaw.  “It’s silly to do it that way (you fool).”  “Don’t you see what’s going on (you idiot)?”  “You’re wearing that (tasteless boob)?”  “You’re slow, hurry up (disorganized)!”  “How come you don’t say as many nice things to me anymore (inconsiderate/uncaring)?”  “You’re always so busy (I’m not important).”  “You used to be more _____ and _____, what happened?”


You’re warding off an attack in some manner.  Sometimes the intent is “How can I help you realize that you’re wrong?”  Whining is a common defensive response as well:  “I was really listening!”  “I’m the innocent victim!”  “I’m doing good stuff here!”  “You don’t appreciate me!”  Another acidic response is “I haven’t had this problem before; it must be you!”


You take the stance of moral superiority. “I’m on a higher plane.  I’m a better human being.”  Insults fit here. Sometimes contempt is more subtle: “Here, I’m going to do that, because you can’t” or correcting someone’s behavior or grammar. Nonverbal contempt looks like an eye roll, or a corner of the mouth turned up–this can take a split second. The other 3 “horsemen” are all acidic, but this one is sulfuric acid.


Disengage and wait for things to blow over.  Offer meager responses.  Placate.  Arms folded.  Look down.  Walk away.  Contemptuous stonewalling – “Just tap me on the shoulder when you’re done.”  “Okay, okay, just get off it!”  “Yes.”  “No.”

Tool:  Awareness of Sarcasm

The Latin meaning of the word is “To tear flesh”

Think about that for a minute.  What intention do you hold?  What is the interpretation/receipt by the other(s)?  How do you know?  How do they know?

Tool:  Giving Advice

  • What an honor to be asked!  To repay that honor, give counsel rather than advice when possible.
  • Giving advice is like feeding someone a fish, and providing counsel is like teaching someone to fish.
  • Three reasons not to give advice when working in small groups or dyads.
    • (Lectures/presented information/data are another matter, especially in large groups or written form.)
    • Giving unsolicited advice is Dirty Communication (#3).   (which can be cleaned up in step 2 under how).
    • Developmental psychology has determined that presented information is the poorest form of learning
    • The most prevalent method in counseling psychology is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, of which a flavor is the Success Counselor.  Know that giving advice is scraping the bottom of the barrel, and it usually serves your needs more than theirs.  Counseling draws the solution out of the person, helps them create future solutions themselves, and finds them right.
  • How to give advice if you are going to do so.
    • The mentor/advisor/scaffolder/coach has determined that direct instruction is absolutely necessary, or the time/situation/energy constraints have been accepted.
    • Know yourself, Know them, Speak your piece, Check in.   (KKSC – ka’kiss)
    • Using self-empathy, understand your own thoughts, feelings, and needs.  What needs of yours will be met by giving advice in this situation?  Contribution?  Self-expression?  Connection?
    • Using empathy statements, connect with the receiver.  Share your understanding of their feelings and needs and ask if they are indeed requesting information, insight, or advice.  Educating, advising, and storytelling are not empathy.
    • Express your insight or advice using “I” Statements (your own experience and beliefs).  Include what needs of yours would be met by following the advice.  Consider limiting your advice to 40 words, or about 20 seconds.  Acknowledge that there are many answers.  Think informative over persuasive.  “I might see if” “What’s important to me”  “If it were me”
    • Using a connection request, ask the receiver for their thoughts, feelings, and needs in response to your advice or insight.  “Does this make sense?”  “Tell me how that landed for you.”

Tool:  Instead of “I’m sorry” or “I’m busy”

  • I’m sorry
    • Avoid using those words, or “I apologize” as a sole response.  I’m sorry alone is like offering a present, and never letting the other person see what’s inside.  The other person is feeling a disconnect, and getting how they feel and why they likely feel that way will re-establish that connection.  You’ll find a more powerful and heart-centered response if you instead offer:
      • An empathetic understanding of the other person’s perspective on events, how they feel about it, and what need(s) is involved.  Ending this with an apology can often add to the effect. 
      • Your commitment to behave differently in the future.  In addition to your commitment, you may have a need for understanding and clarity as well, which could be met before, simultaneously, or after depending on the circumstance.
      • Seek connection and avoid making the other person wrong.  After the other person feels the connection and feels understood, expressing your feelings is appropriate.  It does take longer to truly be sorry.
      • Be careful not to be violent with yourself; that you should be blamed, that you should be penitent, that you’re a terrible person for what you did. And when you agree that you are a horrible person and when you have become sufficiently penitent, you can be forgiven.  If you hate yourself enough, you can be forgiven.  This approach is self violence, and perpetuates more violence in the world.
    • A casual “sorry” or “excuse me” in response to something minor or trivial is different, and acceptable. 
  • I’m busy
    • Or, “I didn’t have time.”  Think instead about what you made more important.  Busy is a matter of priorities.  If your priorities changed after you made a commitment, explicitly or implicitly, or your communication was not clean at the time, take responsibility for your choices.  If you didn’t make time for something, say that.  Instead of saying you’re sorry, try the above.
  • Example
    • Hey John, you know what, I made laundry, a cat nap, and calling my folks more important than this meeting.  I imagine it’s frustrating for you to want to begin, and you might be stressed and disappointed as well.  I do understand this info is important to help others, and being on time holds our community agreements dear.  I made a mistake by being late, and I commit to being on time from now on.  If I’m having trouble with my time commitments, I’ll ask for help instead of breaking them.

Closing Meditations

“Good decisions come from mind, body, heart, and spirit.”
“If you don’t feel love, you’ll find ways to push love away.”
“Inch by inch is a cinch, yard by yard it’s hard”
“At any given moment, you breathe life into life, or you kill it off.”
“If you want your life to be significantly different, you need to do something significantly different.”
“All communication can be evaluated against a continuum of emotionally nourishing to emotionally toxic”
“Five minutes of frustration is your human right.  After that, frustration is no one’s responsibility but your own.”
“Somewhere out beyond right and wrong there is a field; I’ll meet you there.”  Rumi.
“Everything I’ve always wanted is one step beyond my comfort zone.”
“You can’t problem solve and problem escalate at the same time.”
“See their souls and their hearts instead of their behavior.”


Empathy was first created as a word in 1912 by Baruch Urieli.  Carl Jung used the word in his theorizing in 1950.
“The awakening through the soul of the other begins when attention is directed not only to the contents of another’s words but to the soul gesture and soul movement which precedes the speaking.”
Johannes Tautz, The Meditative Life of the Teacher.

“People try nonviolence for a week, and when it does not work, they go back to violence, which hasn’t worked for centuries.” Theodore Roszak