Our emotions are an integral part of our lives. They protect us by alerting us to danger. They add color to our lives and help us find meaning to our existence.
Nevertheless, consistently allowing our emotions to run wild can easily lead to regret. For example, giving into road rage when cut off by another driver could lead to fatal results. In contrast, an extremely happy mood may inspire us to say yes to everything, only later to realize we've bitten off way more than we can chew.
The thing is, we can't really control our feelings. But we can control our reactions to those feelings. By increasing our awareness of emotions and their effects, and then focusing on our thoughts, we can learn to manage our emotional reactions effectively.
In my forthcoming book, I compare our control center to a media player. Think of your emotions as a film you're watching on Netflix: Just as you don't have control over the characters or the plot in the film, you can't control the way you feel in reaction to an event or situation.
However, just as you can manage the actual playing of the film, you can exert control over your subsequent actions.
Ergo, "the Neftlix method." Consider the following seven tools that each of us have at our disposal:
1. The pause button.
The pause is as simple as taking a moment to stop and think before we act or speak. This is especially helpful in a situation where our emotions run high, because it can prevent us from saying or doing something we'll later regret.
Just remember: The pause is easy in theory, difficult to practice.
Factors like added stress or an unexpected situation can easily catch us unawares. That's why it's important to train yourself to use the pause regularly. This will help you to create a habit of thoughtful action. (More on the pause here.)
2. Volume control.
This is the ability to recognize your emotions are getting out of hand, and to dial things back.
Our conversation partner usually reacts in the same style of communication we choose to use. If we speak in a calm, rational voice, they'll respond the same way. If we yell or scream, they will, too.
Train yourself to recognize when your volume is starting to go up. Or, if your communication partner points this out to you, resist the urge to snap back. Instead, take a slight pause and dial back the volume.
3. The tuning dial.
There's a famous saying: "The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply."
You use the tuning dial the same way as you would change the film or change the channel. Instead of focusing on what you're going to say next, tune in to the other person and listen carefully--with the goal to truly understand their problem.
Of course, it's important to understand the "why" behind their feelings. But even more important is to truly understand "how" they feel. Then, relate that to a time when you felt similar. Doing so will help you to apply empathy.
When you realize the other person is in a highly emotional state, it's usually helpful to hit the mute button on yourself.
Why? Because sharing your point of view won't really help the situation. At least, not at this moment. Simply let the other person speak and...
As you stay on mute, focus on mentally recording key points they're willing to share.
Doing so will help you learn more about their perspective--not to use against them in any way--rather, as a foundation for finding solutions at a more appropriate time.
Emotionally charged discussions are often rooted in deep-seated issues. That's why taking a pause or hitting the record button shouldn't be done with the intent of completely forgetting the situation. (Attempts to do so will likely result in the same problem springing up again, in time.)
Instead, use playback by revisiting the topic--once both parties have had time to cool down. Give thought to the ideal location and time to speak, with the goal of calm and rational discussion.
7. Fast forward.
Fast forwarding to the end may ruin a film for most of us, but this can be an extremely helpful tool when dealing with our emotions.
For example, imagine a colleague has been hitting on you for years, despite your clear expressions that you're in a happy relationship and not interested. But one day, after a big fight with your partner, you think differently. Those advances are suddenly flattering--and tempting.
Now's the time to fast forward: Forget about how you feel in the moment. Ask yourself: How will this decision affect you in a month? A year? Five years? Think about the effects your actions will have on your spouse, your family members, your conscience, and even your work.
If emotion is clouding your judgment, fast forward can help you achieve clarity of mind and make sound decisions that you're proud of.
The journey of developing emotional intelligence is a long and challenging one, but one that can reap great rewards in our professional and personal lives.
I hope that with practice, you'll find these tools as helpful to maintaining your relationships as I have.