Thursday, September 24, 2015

Yes…, BUT…

What I am talking about here today is a communication strategy that most of us experience and/or use. We frequently acknowledge, conform with, and/or appreciate something that we hear, but then in reply we say "Yes, but..." to assert a different opinion, sometimes completely contradicting what we acknowledged with our "Yes. I'm sure you have experienced this kind of communication from others, or you do it to others, or both. I think this is a very common communication strategy many people use on a regular base. Yes, there is some benefit to it, BUT there are potential downsides of this strategies (<- Did you notice that I just used it!?).

We feel this “Yes…, BUT…” approach has a positive effect by making our opinion sound a little softer. It usually goes, for example, "I understand your point, BUT…" or, "Thank you very much for this, BUT…." or something like that. In this manner, we don’t sound like jerks who just make complaints or oppose everything. Basically, we don't want to just disagree with our loved ones or coworkers, so we show our understanding first. After that, we then want to voice our contradictory opinions... A very considerate and nice strategy, isn’t it?

The potential problem with this approach, however, is that this may no longer work as much as it used to, if it ever did. Personally, I try to not to use "Yes..., But..." because I don't like it when people do it to me. I find myself just paying attention to whatever comes after the “BUT” and it sometimes even makes me feel upset to have heard those sugarcoated but insincere words that came before it. It may be just meant to please me or not to upset me, but that annoys me…do you feel this way too?

Actually, people frequently pay attention only to what comes after the "But" part. We know that whatever we heard before the "But" means nothing, even when both sides of the argument are supposedly being acknowledged. More sadly, people sometimes just automatically expect to hear the "But…" part. In my personal experience, when I have complimented my supervisees on something they did that impressed me, I sometimes feel that they are waiting for  the “But” part to follow.

So what can we do to get around this communication technique? How can we handle it better?

First, I want to emphasize that nothing is wrong if you continue using this verbal technique. It may be, however, more helpful if you are more aware that people may be so used to it that they discard what you say in acknowledging their opinion and just hear the “But…” part. With a conscious effort you can intentionally modify your tone or emphasis so that you can communicate more effectively without saying "But..."

Second, you can change the expression a little so as to avoid using, “BUT.” I sometimes say, "Yes…at the same time..."  "I get it… hmm...What about...?" "I see your point. By the way…” and so on.

Once we eliminate “BUT” from the sentence, the nuance can sound better, although “but” may be more logically or grammatically correct. As I discussed in my article about the purpose of communication, being accurate is not the point of human communication: delivering what you want to convey is the most important thing. Thus, if avoiding “BUT” works better in terms of effective communication, we can and should avoid it. Why not?

Today, I talked about a very commonly used communication strategy and its drawbacks. The more awareness you have about how you are communicating, the better your communication becomes! Let’s be curious and sensitive to what we say and hear in our daily lives so as to become better communicators!

*This is a "BUTT"

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Emotions... Stop dismissing them

Emotions… Not only we psychotherapists, but also many people emphasize their importance. Yes, they are very important and they are actually one of the main focuses of psychotherapy. But why are they considered that important? Surprisingly, a good number of people, even therapists, have difficulty answering that question. Today, I would like to talk about emotions.

Actually, emotions are one of the most fundamental elements of human beings and human life. When we were born, all we had were “comfortable” or “uncomfortable,” “happy” or “unhappy,” or something like that. That was about it, right? And once we leave infancy behind, emotions become a more primary part of our lives, and an essential part of our brain that influences us a lot, even more than what we would wish for sometimes.

We also usually feel “alive” when we have emotions: Think about the many things you like to do, the pieces of art or entertainments you enjoy. Even roller coasters and horror movies! They invoke some kind of emotion in us, and that’s why we care about them. If we had to lead lives where we experienced no emotions, that would be a really dry and empty existence.

Yes, emotions are vital for our lives and a very important part of them. At the same time, however, emotions are considered problematic in many situations. A lot of people are afraid of expressing emotions or try to avoid them because they are so powerful that you cannot control them in a manner you wish. They can be overwhelming, heart-breaking, or something that drives you crazy, and so on.

Because of emotions, people feel “hurt,” “depressed,” “angry,” “lonely,” “anxious,” and much more, often leaving us feeling powerless. However, we cannot just “turn it off,” leaving us feeling embarrassed by them, or losing control because of them…    

The important thing about emotions to know is that there are no “right” or “wrong” emotions. We often think this is a good/bad emotion to have. For example, it is not uncommon to hear that “It is wrong to feel this way,” “This emotion is inappropriate,” “It is bad to feel angry/sad/jealous,” or “I should feel happy about such a thing.” It’s totally understandable, but there is actually no good or bad about our emotions.

When it comes to emotions, however, once they’re there, they’re there. That’s the nature of emotions, and you cannot do anything about it other than to just acknowledge and accept it. This is a fundamental truth. Once you feel a certain way about something, then nobody or nothing (including yourself!) can deny or remove those feelings. It is very common for people not to approve their feelings: “Oh, she is saying this for my benefit, so I should not feel angry about it,” “I should not feel sad because others will be disappointed,” “It is inappropriate if I feel jealous of him,” or “I have a good family, so I should not feel depressed.” But again, once it’s there, it is there. If you deny your feelings, that means you are denying yourself, your being, your existence, actually, and it will get back to you eventually.

Most of us are trained not to acknowledge, accept, or express our emotions as we get older. In order to cope with social requirements, we may sometimes regulate our emotional expressions or behaviors. However, this does not mean we cannot feel them or make some feelings to be wrong. This is really crucial and I hope all of you can embrace your own emotions, because they are precious!