Category Archives: Emotion Management

Attention is Biased towards Emotion

Events filled with emotion are more likely to capture our attention. The media has known this for a long time of course. And we know that we pay more attention when spouses finally become angry and yell after we’ve found ourselves only half listening to what they say.

We are not passive observers of the world. To some degree we choose what we see (or our brains do it for us), and then we give it significance according to the well-known “ladder of perception” model. We’ve all experienced the heightened awareness that we have of an event when we feel truly emotional about it.

Neuroscientists can now suggest that emotional significance does indeed influence our perceptions – and that the amygdala is the portion of the brain that is responsible. Researchers at Yale and New York University have shown that the amygdala “alters the ease by which events with increased emotional value reach awareness.”

These findings suggest that our perceptual systems are exquisitely tuned to the occurrence of emotionally significant stimulus events, requiring much less attention or effort to reach conscious awareness compared to events of neutral value.

In other words, out attention is biased to pay more attention when emotion is involved. Motivational speakers know it. Preachers know it. Good teachers know it. Coaches need to know it as well. A little bit of passion can go a long way.

I have long remembered something that was said to me some years ago in the midst of an emotional turmoil at the time – “People will forget what you say to them. They will never forget how you make them feel.” I’ve found that to be true over the years.

Link: EurekAlert

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Have a Bad Memory?

The brain can suppress emotional memories is the suggestion of a new study by the University of Colorado at Boulder. It takes practice, and the results are quite preliminary, but it has medical implications certainly for people suffering from depression and other disorders. It could also have implications for coaching.

One of the more difficult aspects in coaching is helping a person deal with the resulting worldview “cage” created by the strong impact of negative emotional experiences. The emotion colors the thinking and can make it nearly impossible to think apart from it. It would certainly be useful if techniques could be developed that could be used from more than a clinical standpoint. Whether that is likely remains to be seen.

Link: Science Daily

It Might be Good to have Mixed Emotions

This excerpt from the University of Washington Business School –

People who experience emotional ambivalence – simultaneously feeling positive and negative emotions – are more creative than those who feel just happy or sad, or lack emotion at all, according to a new study.

“Due to the complexity of many organizations, workplace experiences often elicit mixed emotions from employees, and it’s often assumed that mixed emotions are bad for workers and companies,” said Fong, whose study appears in the October issue of the Academy of Management Journal. “Rather than assuming ambivalence will lead to negative results for the organization, managers should recognize that emotional ambivalence can have positive consequences that can be leveraged for organizational success.”

“Managers who want to increase the creative output of their employees might benefit from following in the footsteps of companies like design firm IDEO or Walt Disney, which pride themselves on maintaining odd working environments. On some level, the bicycles that hang from the ceiling at IDEO and the colorful, casual environment at Disney probably help their employees sharpen their abilities to come up with novel and innovative ideas.” Emotionally ambivalent workers are more creative, innovative

The work environment is mentioned as one applicable venue – what might be others? Team dynamics perhaps – creative tensions fostered within the framework of relationship? What might be the parameters that would keep it from crossing into emotional and mental states that would be self-defeating?

9 Ways to Say “No” with Grace

You’re busy. You have a full agenda and yet you’re part of an organization too. Which means that others are going to ask you to do things and unless you’re comfortable with the social consequences of being the person that everyone knows doesn’t ever help anyone else, you’re going to have to know how to say “no” with a bit of tact and grace.

Here are nine good ways to say no in no particular order. Why not ten? No reason. Continue reading 9 Ways to Say “No” with Grace

Ted Sees a Bull on Wall Street

bull-on-wall-street2.jpgThis is a silly story but it makes a point. Suppose Ted sees a bull on Wall Street in New York City’s financial district. What is likely to go through his mind? His first thought is probably not going to be, “Oh, that’s right, we’re in a bull market now,” as he continues down the street. More likely it will be something along the line of “What the . . .?” followed by “Damn, I think he’s looking at me.”

Which will lead Ted to his “fight or flight” self-preservation response, and this being a large bull, will result in flight if he’s smart. Only when he’s safely away will his emotions calm down. And only then will he begin to think rationally about why exactly a bull is loose on Wall Street.

Point? All three of Ted’s s systems have been involved – drives and needs (self-preservation), emotions (fear) and cognitive thought (wonder what that bull is doing here). In this situation they worked together pretty seamlessly – and pretty correctly given the circumstances.

The rub comes when the three are not working well together. When one of the components is out of balance. Or an emotion unsuitable for the occasion dominates. Or a thought process comes to erroneous conclusions based on incorrect interpretation of . . . and the list goes on.

As we move forward from what has been an introductory series of posts for this site I just want to reiterate a couple of goals here.

  1. Sharing techniques for helping us more effectively manage three areas of brain functioning that go to the core of who we are and how we respond to the world around us.
  2. Highlighting evolving news, research and tools that can help us do number one above.
  3. Establishing a forum and community where others can share some of the same.

Out of it perhaps we can come to know ourselves a bit better as well as live and work together a little more effectively with those around us.

Saying I’m Angry makes me Feel Less Angry

Conventional wisdom has held that putting our feelings into words helps us feel better. A recent study at UCLA’s Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center may indicate part of the reason why. Verbalizing feelings was shown to activate a portion of the prefrontal cortex (right ventrolateral to be precise), bringing about a subsequent reduction in response from the amygdala, the brain’s alarm system.

Similar to applying the brakes to a car, verbalizing our negative feelings may make them feel less intense. The benefit – it gives us a bit more control over the semi-chaos that often characterize our emotional responses. In the words of Ted, thought trumps emotion in this case.

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Thinking and Feeling

Lumosity and tools like it exercise the brain in the way it thinks. Think faster. Think more holistically. Like fine-tuning a car engine – it just runs more smoothly when it’s tuned. All of these cognition-specific tools help us think better and of course are pretty useful.

However, we both think and feel. Our brain is very specifically wired to express both. To develop only the one aspect is akin to running a car on only one cylinder. And it invites an unbalanced perception of the world. Tools that assist in managing our emotionality form the second great subset of useful tools available to us.

A couple of things to remember about emotion – it responds quickly. Really quickly. We’ve all seen the flash of instantaneous anger that quickly changes hours of careful collaborative thinking in a team setting. The rest of the team must deal just as quickly with their own emotional responses. Lucid thinking flies out the window – though with practice, only briefly.

A second fundamental aspect of emotion is that it can be managed – and there are any number of good techniques for doing so. And because it is emotion that we’re discussing after all, there has been about as much emotional reaction as rational discussion on the matter – which just goes to show how intensely we feel.

Both cognition and emotion play a significant role in the formation and expression of who we are – which means that both have a significant impact on our relationships with others. Both can be managed to give us more rewarding results from our interactions with those around us – and that’s the bottom line.