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Communications Skills

Your Emotions Rule How Effectively You Communicate

By Chris Graham

Emotions in Communication: We can’t always control our emotions, but we can choose how we respond to those feelings when we write and speak.

emotions in communication

Did you know that how you feel — all of your emotions — affect how you communicate with clients, colleagues and everyone else?

An example most people are familiar with is email: Have you ever sent an email when you were angry or upset? Did it contain lots of strong language, BLOCK CAPS and exclamation points? Did you notice that when you read the email later, after calming down, it seemed like a different person wrote it?

Our emotions are dynamic, changing all the time, and these changes are amplified by pressure and stress at work. Ignoring how we feel isn’t reliable or sustainable — or effective, given the tendency for our emotions to “leak” into conversations and interactions through the process of emotional contagion.

A much better strategy is to recognize when and how emotions affect the way we communicate — how we speak, write and think.

We can’t always control how we feel, but we can always choose how we respond to those feelings.

Notice How You Feel

When you are feeling prideful, angry or upset, you tend to:

  • Use big words.
  • Raise your voice.
  • Interrupt people.

For example, you might be having a difficult experience with a call center. The longer you stay on hold, and the longer it takes for the operator to address your issue, the more likely you are to feel frustrated and angry — and to react in the above ways. All of which may feel powerful in the moment, but it’s not a very good strategy for resolving your concern.

When you are feeling small, insecure or afraid, you tend to:

  • Talk quietly.
  • Use monologue form (to avoid being interrupted and contradicted).
  • Avoid eye contact.

For example, you’ve probably seen someone who is nervous to present before a group of people. Overcome with anxiety, the person ends up reading their PowerPoint slides as quickly as possible, making limited eye contact and showing little interest in whether the audience is engaged with the material. Again, behaving this way might get an unpleasant experience over with quickly, but it’s not a good strategy for communicating important information.

All else being equal, you want to communicate from a place of calm, curiosity and gratitude. This is the attitude that invites meaningful response and engagement from your audience.

Communicating with Self-Awareness: Find Your Center

To find your center — not too hot, not too cold — you need to understand your personal spectrum of feeling. Understand how it feels when you are communicating from a place of pride or anger and, at the spectrum’s opposite end, how it feels when you are communicating from a place of insecurity and fear.

To do this, take a few minutes to practice two different versions of the same talk or presentation.

  • In the first version, speak from a place of ego and pride. Deliver the version that makes you feel enormous, powerful, a captain of the universe.
  • In the second version, speak from a place of insecurity. Deliver the version that makes you feel small, uncertain and anxious.

It will likely feel difficult to speak from one or both extremes — everyone is different. The point is to notice how you feel at each extreme. Then, when you are speaking to people in your life, you’ll have a sense of when your emotions are pulling you in one or the other direction: toward your ego or your fear, neither of which invite meaningful engagement and response.

(To be clear: It’s completely OK to feel angry or afraid when speaking — to feel anything, really. The point is to recognize your emotions and be intentional in your response to those emotions.)

The next time you’re preparing for a speaking engagement — even a meeting — notice how you feel when practicing different versions of your material. Adjust your message until you feel calm, secure and genuinely interested in how your audience might respond.

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Categories: Communications Skills, Public Speaking
Originally published May 26, 2022
Last updated July 26, 2023
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Chris Graham Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder of TellPeople, a vehicle for teaching communication and storytelling to professionals. He is head of speaker coaching at TEDxToronto (Canada’s premiere TEDx event) and the Storyteller in Residence at Manifest Climate (a global climate technology firm). Twice-retired from law himself (first in New York, then in Toronto), through TellPeople, Chris makes lawyers better at talking to their clients, each other and everyone else. Follow him on LinkedIn.

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