After spending a very busy and loud weekend with a few toddlers, I was reminded of the importance of the “Use your words” phrase that parents and caregivers say when trying to help a toddler communicate what they want.
As a coach, I may hear clients describe a situation, and they may not able to name their emotion nor can they name what they really want. Sometimes we aren’t sure how we feel and we aren’t sure what we want. We may be unclear about both. Or we state what we want and are not sure why we want it. Maybe there is an underlying reason, like the guy who wants to be more direct with his team but the real issue is he is not as direct as he wants to be with his teenagers at home. When a person clearly has something to say, but they aren’t relaying it, they get more frustrated, and it does not end well.
So part of the problem is a) getting in touch with feelings and taking time to get clear, ourselves first, and b) choosing from a broad list of words to describe it.
How great would it be if we could all “Use our words,” and have a rich vocabulary of emotions so that we can be very specific when communicating with others? As a result, misunderstandings would go down, conflict would be easier to solve, employees would not have to guess at what their manager really wants and why. The manager I work with could benefit with learning how to understand his own feelings and thus communicate more clearly and specifically with others as a results. This emotional awareness will help people have more productive communications as a result.
Luckily, toddlers are more usually more straightforward, so once a parent learns their child’s cues, expressions and words, they can figure it out and help them get what they needs: a hug, water, bedtime, downtime, quiet, etc.
Recent research at the University of North Carolina, into how we perceive emotions, reveals that having a name for an emotion is important in both how we experience it and how we cope with it. Academic Tiffany Watt Smith at Queen Mary University in London explains that “putting a name to a feeling can soothe us, bringing coherence to internal turbulence… [but may also] play an even deeper role in our emotional lives, not only helping us manage feelings, but actually bringing them out in the open.”
Here is another application: If your team mate or direct report is struggling to define an emotion, ask them to tell a short story about it. When they have done so, you can ask them to create a word for it. This can help the two of you because it provides a short cut in communication. That word will be understandable by both.
Just as having a narrow range of vocabulary limits a person’s ability to communicate, when we need something or are asking a friend for something, our request will be much clearer and chances of success greater, if we can tap into a broader range of words to use.
Next time you are preparing for an important conversation with someone, and the stakes are high, and you want to be really clear, credible and understood, think about the range of emotions you are feeling first and then the word should come to your mind. It will improve your outcome.