How to deal with upset

I am a member of family that is made up of five people; I am a father and a husband; my wife and children look to me to help them deal with their upset; to-date my contribution has been hit and miss.  I also enjoy coaching and thus get an opportunity to help people deal more effectively with their stuff.

In the past I listened for and about the situation and then went on to have a ‘lets think about this differently’ and ‘what are your options’ conversation.  It is the kind of conversation that happens in CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).  It is the kind of conversation that appeals to the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex – the reasoning part of the brain.

The other day, I was listening to someone sharing their upset with me.  I was able to help this person deal with the upset and move forward.  Afterwards I took a look at why this encounter had been so positive.  I got that I had approached it very differently to other times.  Specifically:

  1. I was in a good state of mind-body – I was relaxed, calm, present and actually wanted to listen and be of service;
  2. I listened, allowed and focussed on the upset itself, specifically the emotions – “If I understand you correctly then you are feeling this way and this is having this impact on your body…..” – and thus enabled the upset person to get to grips with the emotions and the impact they were having;
  3. I validated the upset persons emotions and the story that he/she was telling – “I get that you feel this way and it is ok to feel that way” – and by doing this the upset person became visibly less emotional and more rational;
  4. When I sensed that the tide of emotions had passed through I moved the conversation to talking about the ‘real world situation’ that was the ’cause’ of the upset – “Is now a good time to have a look at the situation that has led you to this upset?”;
  5. I then worked with the upset person to explore the ‘real world situation’ that they were finding difficult: what is so, how can you look at this differently, what are your options, which option appeals to you and is likely to make a big enough difference?

What I distinguished is that it is impossible for a person to put their thinking brain (prefrontal cortex) into action when that person has been hijacked by their emotional (limbic) brain. And that is as true for me (the listener, the coach) as it is by the person who is upset.

The approach that I have outlined is effective and not quick – it takes time, around forty-five minutes.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

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