How many times have you heard people say something like, “We can’t talk if you’re going to be all emotional about it!”
It’s funny that we give nonsense like that a pass, because if you aren’t emotional — if you don’t have access to your emotions — you’re not going to be able to communicate properly at all. I love pure rationality as much as the next science geek, but to truly connect with other human beings (or animals), you’ve got to use your emotional and empathic abilities.
That means listening to the words people are saying, sure, but it also means watching their body language, listening to their pitch and cadence, observing their breathing and their eye movements, understanding their unspoken references, and knowing enough about your own emotions to be able to identify them in another person.
If you aren’t emotional, you’re not going to be able to communicate effectively, because you won’t have the skills you need to listen, and to be heard. Communication requires emotion; it can’t occur without it.
But here’s the caveat: You’ve got to be able to work with emotions skillfully.
We’ve all seen people who throw their emotions all over the place (think politicians, activists, and commentators with their fear-mongering or fist-shaking), but that’s not communication as much as it is verbal battery! Yes, these emotionally volatile people get their point across, but they do it at you rather than for you or with you. They use their emotions to frighten or anger or manipulate you, and as a result (if you fall for it), you become less conscious and less individuated; you become a follower rather than an informed person.
So it’s understandable that people try stop us from being emotional, because they’re trying to protect themselves from being manipulated. They don’t want anger or shame or tears used against them. They want the clear facts of the situation laid out, and they don’t want to get tangled up in separate issues and back stories and complexities.
Well bless their hearts, because human relationships aren’t as simple-minded as that. You can’t talk to people as if they were computers, or expect that nothing you say could be misconstrued. And you can’t expect people to tell you the full truth — or even know the full truth themselves; you’re always going to need the extra intelligence that your emotions and your empathy give you. Sometimes, knowing what not to say is more important than speaking!
Emotionally volatile manipulators are abusing their emotions and us; they’re not role models or mentors for emotional communication (as my son Eli says, they’re baking a fail cake). Emotions are absolutely necessary in the human brain, and you can’t think clearly, make competent decisions, or communicate without your emotions. Learning their language will help you emote without manipulation, and communicate with empathy.
And here’s something interesting: Connecting to your emotions and your empathy will actually protect you from being manipulated by other people’s emotions.
Learning the language of the emotions will actually make you smarter and more capable in the social world, and you’ll be protected from politicians, activists, salespeople, the media, and any manipulative people you know. You’ll be able to watch them, identify the emotions they’re abusing, and use your own healthy emotions to keep yourself safe from manipulation.
However, you’re going to have to practice hiding your laughter, because it’s funny to witness someone who’s trying like mad to manipulate you, but only succeeding in baking a fail cake!