The 3 Bridges: Communicating with People in the Grip of Emotions

You can use your senses to determine if someone is swept up in sadness, anger, or fear and then know how to best help out. With just a little practice, you’ll recognize the emotions underneath other people’s destructive demeanor, words, and actions. Rather than reacting to what they say or do, extend a communication “bridge” to help shift their emotional state. You can give them what they truly long to hear but don’t know how to ask for.

Where is their attention? That’s the most important question to ask yourself.

People feeling sadness but not crying are most likely thinking poorly of themselves. They need appreciations. In your interactions with them, convey the idea, “I love you. You’re great.” Remind them of their strengths and contributions.

People feeling angry and spewing finger-pointing “you”s all over the place really just feel isolated and are in desperate need of understanding – not debates, lectures, or reprimands. The chance they’ll hear what you have to say are slim if you don’t first genuinely connect with their position. You don’t have to agree. You just have to understand what is true for them. Hear them out without taking in what they say personally. Most likely under the anger they feel sadness or fear.

Folks feeling overwhelmed and agitated are in the grip of fear. They need honest reassurances. Com­fort, soothe, and repeatedly remind them that everything is and will be all right. Other reassuring comments are “I’m here,” “We’ll make our way through this together,” “I’m not leaving,” or “I’ll take care of it.” Or offer reassurances by reminding them of the objective reality: “Your boss really likes the work you do,” or “You’ve done this successfully before.”

If you’re unable or unwilling to offer a communication bridge, your own unexpressed emotions are getting in the way. It’s okay. You’re human. To quickly reignite your compassion and best self, take a brief time-out to do some emoting, remember the broader reality, and/or look within to center yourself. Then you will be able to meaningfully extend a bridge.

You can take personal responsibility and ask others to extend a bridge to you when you’re in the grip of sadness, anger, or fear. Or even better, make your own bridge. Sadness, for instance, is a cue to give yourself some extra self-appreciation. Anger indicates your need for some gentleness, love, and understanding. And fear is a sign to reassure yourself that everything is indeed okay and unfolding in its own time – because it is!

You’ll deepen your personal relationships when you become adept at recognizing the emotions that people struggle with. What an amazing talent you’ll be cultivating. For example, if you know that your husband has an anger constitution, you can consciously listen silently and understand his position, especially at times when he is upset or under stress. If a workmate clearly has a sadness constitution, you can choose to validate her gifts and skills a little more often.