Understanding Emotion to Better Connect With Your Clients by Cathy MacDonald

Emotion is one of the most important factors to consider in communication and forms one of the foundations I coach trainers about.

When it comes to emotion, we probably don’t pay attention to it unless it is particularly high, low or out of the ordinary yet we experience emotion in some form and to some degree all of the time.

A simple way to explain emotion is that it’s your body’s way of taking a short cut to help you know how to deal with a situation. Think of your reaction to a birthday surprise, having a win (or a loss) with a lotto ticket, bereavement, seeing your child take those first steps. You don’t take hours to work out how to react, you simply react.

Your reaction is dictated by the emotion you feel and can be a very quick process

A – Something happens
B – You make sense of it
C – You have an emotion
D – You react

You may have heard of the fight or flight response when someone is suddenly in a fearful or stressful situation – that’s emotion at work and it’s there to keep you safe.

There is no doubt that the power of emotion is one of the foundations of communication because the way we feel dictates the way we listen, the way we respond to others and the words we then use.

You already know that walking into a gym for the first time will bring varied emotion amongst clients and I respectfully highlight it as those emotions are massively important to recognise and respond to. It may be difficult to accept until you have tried it out, or you may need a bit more in explanation to appreciate why it works, but please trust me that if you can identify someone’s emotion and respond to it you will immediately improve communication and your connection to that person.

Allow me to offer an example:

When you say ‘How Are You’ to someone and they reply with the normal ‘fine thanks’ you can tell if they are in fact fine – maybe the words say yes but the way in which they say them and perhaps their body language says no. Their emotion will be conveyed other than in the ‘fine thanks’. Imagine that you react to the ‘fine thanks’ rather than the emotion conveyed. No connection, and I promise that there will be communication shortfalls.

We give out clues about ourselves ALL OF THE TIME sometimes consciously and sometimes subliminally. If you can read someone’s emotion then you have made a start to read their clues and ‘read them’.

I mentioned that an emotion is a shortcut, it effectively saves you analysing every situation. We need shortcuts in our lives and that’s a fact BUT there is a risk that when you act on a shortcut you may be missing something.

How Emotion Affects Our Decision Making

When you are highly emotional how do you rate your decision making? Better or worse than when you are thinking rationally?

We react in a certain way when we are highly emotional but once we have thought rationally and our emotion is more balanced we may have to alter that decision, apologise for what was said, recover our dignity because we acted on a shortcut that felt right at the time. Communication flaws are often because we have taken a shortcut. We make sense of something and react without exploring and before we know it we have missed an important part of what someone was saying or conveying to us. The annoying thing is, that we sometimes don’t realise the miscommunication until much later.

The reality is that I could fill a week coaching about emotions and how they impact on communication. Ironically I have to take a shortcut and summarise otherwise this article will be rather lengthy. So here are a few snippets for you.

There are 7 universal emotions – I task you to find out what they are.

What To Do When Someone is Displaying High Emotion

When someone is displaying high emotion, avoid giving instructions as they will not hear you or recall the detail of what you have said. Let them vent, let them speak, just listen.

Be curious as to what has happened and show non-judgmental interest.

Try not to problem solve. There are phrases that are not helpful when someone is emotional – if you find yourselves thinking or saying ‘what you need to do is’ while someone is still sharing their story then you are not listening to them or their emotion, instead you will be sorting it all out based on ‘you you you’ and what you would do. That doesn’t help. Instead, acknowledge feelings and perspective. You don’t have to agree with them but try to understand where they are coming from.

Check out this fantastic Youtube video for a great example of problem solving instead of listening

Using Emotional Labels

Try to label the emotion they are showing but keep it natural in line with the language you normally use.

“Wow, I can see it makes you happy”

“You sound really annoyed”

“That sounds tough” (‘Tough’ is not an emotion but that’s how the emotion makes them feel and that works well)

“You seem to have the weight of the world on your shoulders”

“You say ‘fine’ but you don’t look it”

Let’s Finish With a Couple of Tasks

Thank you for reading and I hope you are able to take something from this to help your communication flow. In true Art of Communication style, here are a couple of tasks for you.

Task 1 – Identify The 7 Universal Emotions

Task 2 – Try to identify emotion in people and label it in your mind. If you feel confident then weave that emotional label into your conversation with them.

Cathy MacDonald’s Bio

Cathy MacDonald is a former hostage and crisis negotiator having served with Police Scotland for 32 years. She was responsible for deploying to incidents with additional responsibility in negotiation development and negotiator training. Having launched her own business, The Art of Communication in August 2015, Cathy has now introduced enhanced communication skills to the fitness industry. She helps trainers connect to clients, coaches them on effective and influential communication, explains human behavior and why people react the way they do. You can find out more about Cathy’s work through her website The Art of Communication and through her LTB podcast appearances here, here and here.

Find Out More About LTB

If you’re an LTB member you can also check out Cathy’s courses on listening, conversation and the power of emotion by clicking those links. If you’re not an LTB member you can find out more information about our 2-week free trial and how to access those courses here.

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