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  • Writer's pictureThrive Inc.

You Can’t Outsmart Your Emotions: Disruption to Dialogue

We are in the midst of so much disruption right now, and you may find yourself feeling scared, overwhelmed, and helpless. It can be difficult to comprehend the behavior of others or understand why people think differently than you, which can create additional stress. However, by learning to understand your own emotions and those of others, your ability to see things more clearly and make better decisions improves.

Talking about how you feel is extremely powerful, and it is more important than ever that we connect with others and talk about what's going on inside. If we don’t acknowledge them, our emotions will metastasize and take over, and nobody wants that!

Tune in this week where we’ll share some useful tips to help you stay grounded in times of stress, and have successful dialogue in times of conflict. We’ll discuss how to recognize your biases, work through your emotions when it feels difficult to cope, and how to have compassion towards others regardless of differing opinions. It’s time to get talking!

If you want to learn how to deal with conflict more effectively, as always, we are both available for individual one on one and couples coaching. For the next couple of months, we are also offering free virtual training to organizations. Our goal is to support you, your team, and your business both at work and at home during this pandemic. Get in touch with us to find out more!

If you enjoyed the show, please share the podcast with your family and friends, or post a five-star review on Apple Podcasts. Rating and reviewing the show helps spread the word, which means less friction and suffering for everyone, and who doesn’t want that?

Learn More:

  • Why your brain thinks everything is dangerous during times of stress.

  • How to tolerate your own discomfort to move forwards.

  • How to deal with internal tension.

  • The importance of talking about your emotions.

  • Why it’s impossible to outsmart your feelings.

  • How to be aware of what’s in your personal filter.

  • Why human connection is so important during times of conflict.


Full Transcript:

CrisMarie: Welcome to The Beauty of Conflict, a podcast about how to deal with conflict at work, at home and everywhere else in your life. Hi, I'm CrisMarie.

Susan: And I'm Susan. We run a company called Thrive, and we specialize in conflict resolution, communication and building strong, thriving teams and relationships. Conflict shows up in our lives in so many ways. Most people, unfortunately, are not very good at handling conflict. Most people have never been taught the right tools for dealing with conflict, and then it leads to unnecessary friction, arguments, passive aggressive emails, tears, hurtful comments, stuck-ness, all kinds of things we don't want. We're on a mission to change all of that.

CrisMarie: We've spent the last 20 years teaching our clients how to handle conflict in a whole new way. We're here to show you that conflict doesn't have to be scary and overwhelming. With the right tools, you can turn a moment of conflict into a moment of reinvention. Conflict can pave the way into a beautiful new system at work, a new way of leading your team, a new way of parenting, a new chapter of your marriage where you feel more connected than ever before. Conflict can lead to beautiful things.

So I wonder if right now you might be feeling depressed, terrified, enraged, helpless, powerless, angry, guilty, grief, ashamed, threatened, violated, furious. Any of these or none of them may apply. But right now we are in the midst of so much disruption. We thought Covid and sheltering in place was a big ask, and then we had the George Floyd murder, the protests, the looters and it just amped up our situation to flood us with different emotions. And I’m wondering what you’re feeling right now.

Susan: And we do know that it’s very possible that we have reached a moment where change is possible. And we see people out there wanting to take action, wanting to know what they can do, and how to go forward and address some of these, frankly, age old historical issues of racism and injustice in our communities. Now, we’re not going to pretend to figure out how to tell you how to handle racism. I mean we’re trying to work on that ourselves.

But what we do know at the root of this is how well can we tolerate our own discomfort and feelings and find a way to move to where we could take disruption to dialog? And figure out ways to go from conflict, to possibility, to change.

CrisMarie: Because we really think no matter what the situation, it’s really how are we dealing with this conflict. And what Susan and I have recognized is over the years we have repeatedly helped people deal with conflict, no matter what the topic. And it’s really learning how to deal with that tension inside yourself and the tension between you and another person, and creating a space for you to speak up. And also be just as interested in what somebody else has to say, even if they have a completely different point of view. And we know that is not an easy ask.

Susan: And we have been recently in a number of different organizations, and helping them figure out how to take their broad organizational members and find a way to help them deal with all that’s going on. Because for some people they’re still dealing with Covid, and the incredible grief and loss of what’s happened there.

CrisMarie: Regular people are still being born and dying in life circumstances, and so there’s a regular life that’s going on that we have a hard enough time dealing with on top of Covid, sheltering in place and all that’s going on now.

Susan: So we wanted to share with you just some of the things we’ve been offering in these organizations, because we think they apply to you in your own home with your family, with your community.

CrisMarie: And quite frankly, a lot of this, all those feeling words that I read at the beginning are no matter what you’re feeling, it’s usually amped up right now, or it could be amped up. And we’re not good at processing, talking about, even feeling our feelings, that’s not a skill we were taught.

And so when we’re under stress, we have this amygdala in our brain that has an on or off switch, it’s an ancient part of our brain. And so under stress it thinks everything is a bear. Bear, bear, bear, bear. And so it puts us into fight, flight, freeze or even faint. And when that happens, blood drains from our brain, goes to our extremities to get us ready to fight or flight. And all those chemicals actually cause us to talk faster, have trouble sleeping, take frantic action, I’ve got to do something, maybe argue more, or even use the wrong words or have trouble spelling.

Or just wanting to kind of lay in bed and have it all go away or be feeling teary and overwhelmed, or desperate for information. I know last week I just kept using the wrong word, I’d pick up the phone and I’d say the TV, those are things that are happening. And I think you had some things that were going on, Susan.

Susan: Well, for me the way it’s shown up more recently is I wake-up at the same time of night. And it’s like I have to get up and I have in my head, no, you need to go find out what happened overnight with these protests, what’s going on. And it’s the same time of night and I can look at it, I’ve looked at it. There’s Chinese medicine, my lung, it’s about grief, it’s my liver, it’s about change. And I noticed, I basically go read the same things each time, are these movements just more violent or have they come to be more peaceful demonstrations?

And it’s been an interesting experience because I know it’s got something to do with what’s going on in the world. And I also know it has to do with my own nervous system, both are true.

CrisMarie: When we have a lot of feelings that are happening, especially if we’re not good at feeling them, expressing them, it’s kind of like our CPU gets filled up and not a lot of processing space. And so we wind up doing these weird things. It can even show up as you have trouble making decisions, or you have physical manifestations like heart palpitations, or stomach aches that aren’t related to Covid, but they’re just a filling up of your system.

And what we want you to know is you’re a 100% normal human functioning, emotional being, and you’re not alone in this.

Susan: So we have been talking a lot about this whole idea of how to deal with crisis and change. And we want to talk today about, especially with the current environment, our tendency is to pay attention to our circle of concern. And we also have what we call our circle of control. And our circle of concern is all those events out in the world, the politics, riots, what other people think, how other people feel, the weather, the pandemic, what other people want.

And here’s the thing, we don’t have a whole lot we can do about that, but we do have our circle of control for us directly, which is what we think, what I think, feel, do, and how I impact my relationships.

CrisMarie: Now, the tricky part is when you focus on your circle of concern, if you get all involved in the media or wanting to change how other people are, they should be wearing a mask, I can’t believe they’re not. You’re actually focused on your circle of concern and your influence actually shrinks.

Susan: And this is coming up big time even right now with all of this around the riots and the protests. On Facebook I see people saying, “If you’re not speaking up then you’re silent and you’re complicit.” Then people say, “Do not tell me on Facebook who I am and who I’m not.”

And there’s a lot going on that really Facebook often is not where we have a lot of – it’s not where our circle of influence is. Maybe, and it could be if you have a tight circle of people who reads your Facebook on a regular basis, maybe you’re going to influence some of them. But it can also be a painful place to keep reading if you think that’s where you have some control.

CrisMarie: And so really we want to encourage you to actually check inside and focus on your circle of control, which again is how you feel, what you think, what you want. And how you treat the people in your immediate vicinity, those relationships are what you can control. And when you do that your influence actually grows.

Susan: And you may be someone who’s in a situation where you could go out and be part of the protest or part of a dialog or part of a town hall where there’s a lot going on. And we would suggest that if you’re going to do that, to also apply some of these tools as you go, because what we’ve found even in our neck of the woods is there’s a protest. And there are people there that are very, I think often they are peaceful, and then there are people there that are also peaceful but they’re carrying significant weaponry.

CrisMarie: Well, I mean this has happened in our estate where we had the protest. We had both sides of the protest, and we also had a circle of militia around them with AK-47s, which to some would be a real freak out, I mean for me it would be.

Susan: And it’s so easy though to jump to – I mean I see a lot of dialog going on in Facebook about what was happening. There’s no way that could have been a good thing, people making up all sorts of stuff about what it was and what it wasn’t.

And then I also saw some people who dealt with it very differently, who went and asked questions or said, “I’m grateful you’re here to help us stay safe.” Very different things than I would have ever thought to do. People who were managing their own internal system and staying in some kind of dialog because in these type of situations where there’s such deep seated emotion, it’s a powder keg, unless you take care of yourself and continually stay present. So we want to talk about a few ways you can do that.

CrisMarie: And one of the things that when we get stressed we have a system in our body, the largest nerve in our body is our spinal cord. The second largest is the vagus nerve. It’s got an old branch and a new branch. The new branch actually connects to our brain and up into our face, ear, nose and throat down into our heart. And the other one goes from our brain all the way down into our guts, all the way down.

And the one that’s in the top, in our face is what we call the social engagement, that’s the newer one. And it’s why when we get stressed it’s so important to actually talk to somebody, share how you feel. Because we get that connection and that settles our nervous system.

So rather than being in a sympathetic response of fight, flight or freeze, that’s when your brain is not full of blood and you’ve got a very narrow focus, you’re ready to fight or flight. This actually turns on your parasympathetic nervous system which is your rest and digest, your calming one. So talking about how you feel is very powerful.

Susan: So we want to just give you two techniques, I think we’ve actually talked about this a couple other places first. But one of the very simple things you can do, and this is in alignment with Covid in my opinion. Is we’ve been told all along that one of the best ways to stop viruses and contagions is to wash our hands. The simplest thing we can do, hot water and soap. Well, just so happens that that motion of hand washing, if you do it without soap and water is a way to kind of tap you back into your parasympathetic system.

CrisMarie: Another way to access that upper level vagus nerve is actually to orient to the room, and this helps you get present when you’re all in your head thinking about worst case scenario. Is actually just turn your head slowly in one direction, pause, you can do this right now if you’re not driving. Pause and notice an object, notice the shape of it, the color, how the light hits it, how far away it is from you.

And now turn your head in the opposite direction, not just your eyes, your whole head, because you’re using your neck there. And now find another object, notice the shape, the color, how far away it is from you, and just ask yourself the question, am I physically safe right here, right now. And breathe into any yes that you get.

And what we’re doing here is we’re just actually kind of talking to your primitive brain and letting it know, wait a minute, there is no villagers with pitchforks coming at me right in this moment. I actually am safe in this room, because our brain gets ahead of ourselves and thinks there’s all these scary scenarios, so it’s a great way to slow down and come back.

The other thing is to actually vibrate the lower portion of that vagus nerve, that lower portion which is ancient goes on quickly and comes off slowly, so we need to actively engage with it. And the way you can do this is with a breath. And it’s called voo, and what it is any time you take a big inhale and a longer exhale, you’re helping turn on your parasympathetic rest and digest system.

And what I want to add to that is having you make the sound voo, I’m going to do it and if there’s nobody around, I encourage you to do it with me. And so because usually want to do three or four of these breaths, so you have a big inhale, exhale and make the sound ‘voo’. Now, ideally you would do that again and that is vibrating that big vagus nerve all the way down into your guts and all those organs down in there, and it’s really turning on that rest and digest.

And you know you’re under stress if you are having any digestive issues, because it’s often from a freeze response that happens with that nerve.

Susan: And frankly, this is actually something that, you know, and when CrisMarie talks more about this, and she didn’t say this, this time. But as an Olympic athlete it was something you used to get ready for an event.

CrisMarie: Yeah, actually a lot of these tools I was doing, I didn’t recognize it, but now there’s science behind it and it comes out of trauma theory from Peter Levine as one of the experts in it.

Susan: And also I know for me and I’ll just, you know, as we mentioned, in our world of protest we have our militia, which seemed to be people who feel very strongly that they need to bring a lot of arsenal to an event. And that, to me, I honestly will say is like unnerving. And what it tends to bring up in me is my fight nature, crazily enough I get really mad at them, not helpful, because the last thing I want to do is have someone…

CrisMarie: Get mad at somebody like that...

Susan: Yeah. And so what has been helpful, if I’m out and about and I am in my place of trying to speak up and be out to make a statement and I see that, the voo has helped.

CrisMarie: So doing that breath?

Susan: Doing that breath, feeling my feet, taking – rubbing my hands even in the hand washing things. Things that will help me drop into a more parasympathetic present state, grounding in my shoes, feeling my feet, helps to make sure that I’m not – I have a different view of them. It’s like, well, wait a minute, the gun’s not pointing at me. Wait a minute, something else may be happening here. It’s like it gives me the ability to access something else.

CrisMarie: And Susan mentioned the last tool that we’ll just share which is actually feeling your feet. You can do this right now, again, if you’re not driving. So wiggle your toes and swipe your feet and just bring your awareness down to your feet. We normally don’t pay attention to our feet. And if you’re a visualizer, you can imagine you have roots coming out of the soles of your feet or cement blocks. You could feel them getting heavier, and feel your seat in the chair. And if you’re sitting against a chair you can even rest in the support that’s underneath you.

And all of this is bringing down your brain to kind of the rhythm of your body and using that as a resource.

Susan: And these are all tools you can do in environments where you may not even realize it’s possible. We have used these for years now in heated situations and boardrooms and organizations, and couples workshops, because there can be a lot of intense conflicts with couples. And sometimes helping them just take a moment and do a couple of these tools before you try to have that conversation, that if you just went right into the conversation you’d be going from a place of reaction.

CrisMarie: So just notice and we encourage you, listeners, to try these out, hand washing or hand wringing, feeling your feet, orienting to your space and doing the voo breath and feeling your feet and your seat. Are just some ways to slow down the fast pace of your prefrontal cortex that thinks it’s the boss and it’s really not, it’s just a manager in your system, here the CEO of you.

Susan: So we want to talk for a moment about emotional intelligence now. And emotional intelligence starts with really feeling your feelings, it’s not about fixing, repressing or overriding. In our years of working with couples the one thing that we spend the most time on, because in a couple we so much want to fix things and get it back to normal, or make sure, you know, abandonment and inundation are such big feelings that come up. This person’s going to abandon me.

CrisMarie: Leave me or they’re going to actually make me change.

Susan: Okay. And helping people get that from just that place alone, if you try to fix it from there, you’re going to either give yourself away or just override the other person and it’s not helpful. Now, take that from a couple and this is also true in large community situations where there are very strong differences of opinion. You want to actually be willing to actually feel your feelings and not let that fear of being inundated or abandoned take you off of being inside yourself.

CrisMarie: And you might not relate to the inundated or abandoned, but you might relate to it’s just not safe for me to feel, and so you try to repress them, and it’s kind of like holding a beach ball under water. Eventually that beach ball’s going to pop back up and likely in your face. So, feelings don’t go away, they metastasize, we’ve said this in other podcasts. And so learning how to feel what you’re feeling is key because it’s going to help you make better decisions more in line with what’s really true for you, rather than trying to please other people or do the right thing or what you should do.

Susan: Now, because we tend to believe that we can outsmart our emotions. No matter how smart you are, you’re not going to outsmart your emotions, plus you actually really don’t want to. And so what you want to be able to do is feel your emotions, feel them deeply, listen and become relational in them.

CrisMarie: It makes perfect sense that people would be feeling grief because there’s so much uncertainty and loss, and even anger. Because we feel anger when we interpret an injustice or an injustice has been done, it’s normal for anger to come up. We have Velcroed it so much to violence, and so we think anger is really bad. Anger is a healthy emotion that will spur us on to take action on our own behalf. And hopefully without hurting someone else, yourself or property, that’s using that anger to help you move forward.

Susan: And being able sometimes to whatever you are feeling, giving yourself the permission to feeling, like why does it make perfect sense that this is going on for me right now, having some self-compassion, having some willingness to acknowledge that this is normal during these times.

CrisMarie: Yeah, it really is important to normalize your own feelings, because especially if you’ve been a suppressor or a repressor, you’re kind of like, “I don’t want to feel this.” And it really makes perfect sense that you would be having a lot of emotional energy right now.

Susan: The next step of this to make it relational is to be able to come into some sort of conversation or dialog. Sometimes the types of conversations you may be needing to have are going to be difficult, they’re not going to be easy.

CrisMarie: And so we really believe in courage. And how we define courage is we put our two magic ingredients, vulnerability plus curiosity, we think is courage. The courage to show up real, vulnerable and say what you think, what you feel, what you want, being willing to reveal that, even if somebody across from you has a very different point of view. But also being just as curious about how that person put the world together without thinking you need to agree or change.

Susan: And the other part of this that we haven’t put into it yet, but I think is that the willingness to listen and to listen deeply to what someone else has to say. So those that are the two components of a dialog or a conversation, someone speaking, sharing their story on a deep – with vulnerability. Somebody listening with curiosity and be willing to really deeply consider.

CrisMarie: And I think often we talk about when we’re doing workshops and communication about mutual purpose and mutual respect. And mutual purpose is important for the entry criteria for a dialog. If we need to be aligned about – I need to care about you, I need to care about me, and our relationship. So if I don’t care about our relationship then I’m not actually going to probably treat you very well and it won’t go very far. But if I care about our relationship then I want to get through this, it helps set the stage for our discussion.

And the second thing is mutual respect, and what’s tricky is there is not one definition of respect. We think there is a definition of respect based on our own point of view, but everybody defines it differently.

Susan: So one thing that can be helpful, whether you’re addressing this in your home, with your family, in your workplace or wherever else is to talk about what does respect look like. And what does it look like for you, what do you want? And in our couples, this is really a process of boundering, and boundering is a very tricky – we have some other podcast on that, is the process of being able to talk about what you want. Doesn’t mean you’re going to get it, it just means that you’re willing to define it. And you’re also looking – it’s not about changing the other person but showing up.

CrisMarie: And this is true in the office as well, we think it’s clear he doesn’t respect me. But we don’t know actually, you’re assuming that, you can’t assume – well, you can, you can do whatever you want, you’re an adult.

But when you assume somebody has disrespected you but you haven’t defined, when you interrupt me, I interpret that as disrespectful. That may be very different for that other person who just likes to join in the conversation. So be aware of how much assumptions you make about somebody disrespecting you, rather than checking it out, check the intention, whether your intention to disrespect me and check out that story.

Susan: And the other piece of this that is really vitally important is to notice and pay attention to where might your own personal filter be getting in the way of you being able to even have a dialog. Your personal filter is one; it’s your significant life event. So we all have had things happen to us that have caused us to delete, generalize and distort information.

And a lot of times we haven’t realized that something that happened to us in our life, just a simple version of that, if I got bitten by a small dog when I was a young kid, to this day I’ve been more scared of small dogs than large. That did happen to me and I was more scared of small dogs than large dogs. So that is a very simple thing, but I never knew how much that played into my own bias about that.

CrisMarie: And most of us are unaware of our personal filter because our brain basically had a lot of information and it had to create shortcuts. So it created kind of this table in our head that said, “This is good, that is bad.” Susan’s head says, “Small dogs, dangerous.” So what we want to support you doing is start to become aware of what is in your personal filter. What do you think of?

There’s all sorts of cognitive biases that we have that we are unaware of that we take as fact. And that’s just our brain lying to us, I really want to underscore, our brain is lying to us. It’s not fact, it’s not truth. It’s just how we have put the world together to manage all this information.

Susan: That is true from our own individual lifetimes, it’s also what we’re facing right now with some of these issues around racism, it is generational. Years of systemic racism that has occurred. Now the best we can do is look at our own cognitive biases and really start to address them, and own them, and feel the shame, the guilt, whatever it is we feel from who we are and who we have become, with some honesty and some compassion.

CrisMarie: And if you want more information on the cognitive biases, we did an interview with Jeremy Pollock on our podcast, the Beauty of Conflict. And it’s working with the mind, I think it’s episode 36, I can’t quite read that writing.

Susan: So that’s a great one where we dive into that a lot more because really until you can take ownership and understand your own personal filter, you’re not going to be able to know how to check out your own story and shift things in the moment, to really listening to somebody else.

CrisMarie: And if you’re really stuck in kind of a reconcilable spot, either in a couple or in a business situation, or just even your friends talking about what’s going on. You want to slow down and not try to get to the right answer. But ask this other person who is across from you, “Why is that so important to you?” Because what’s going to start to happen is you’re going to hear what’s underneath the top layer of we need this or we need gun control, or we need whatever the answer is.

And you’re going to actually see how this other person, what they value, their life experience. You might hear a story of why it’s so important to them, based on their past experience. And that’s the connecting point, you with another human being. And that’s the bridge that we need to create in these times of conflict.

Susan: And right now you may not be ready to go out and walk in protest and deal with racism. I can count on the fact that there are probably issues in your own family, in your own relationships.

CrisMarie: In your own business.

Susan: In your own business, that you could look at and begin to actually own what really is going on here and use that as a place to see where your bias is, where are your own judgments, can we have a dialog. Can we get out of our positions, right, wrong position?

CrisMarie: It really is about learning about our blind spots and we can only do that in relationship to other people and dialog. So we wanted to give you some tools. If you are having a hard time, you can also do some expressive writing, that’s a great way to actually move through your feelings, if you’re not comfortable sharing them. But writing, like how do I feel about Covid? How do I feel about racism, money, health, whatever the trigger is, and just let yourself free write.

Susan: And then the other thing that is also really good in trauma is shaking. Now, we learned this from out in nature, if you watch animals they, when something happens, they shake. And that is their way of discharging that energy. And so right now there is a lot of trauma that’s going on.

CrisMarie: You may not relate to that word, but these things, these protests and the riots and the looting, feel big. And that’s a form of trauma. And they may even resonate if you’ve been in past riots. Several people that I’ve been coaching, they were there when the 1968 riots, or Rodney King. So there’s lots of resonance that comes up and so don’t be surprised about that and talk about those experiences.

Susan: And the biggest thing is watch what you tend to do, maybe you’re like, if you are silent and not protesting, you’re a problem. Really check that at the door because some people may not be protesting, but they’re doing something else. Don’t worry about what you can’t control, but come back to what you can control and how you can make a difference for yourself, and I think, for the world.

CrisMarie: When people are uncomfortable they go to silence or violence. So somebody who’s not speaking up may actually feel quite threatened, so just to have compassion for that position.

Susan: Okay, so…

CrisMarie: Hopefully this has been helpful. We just wanted to give you some tools to process through this current situation, when we didn’t think another thing could happen it did, so we hope you take care.

If you want to learn more about what we discussed today, or how to deal with conflict more effectively, Susan and myself, CrisMarie are both available for individual one-on-one coaching. We also offer couples coaching, which now as we live and work 24/7 together, may be more important than ever.

Susan: We continue to do our team facilitation, both live and now virtually. Let’s get real, until you’ve had a tough conversation over Zoom, you may not be building the trust you need on your team. For the next couple of months we are offering free virtual trainings to organizations. Our goal is to support you, your team and your business, both at work and at home during this pandemic.

CrisMarie: Right now you can find short videos on my, CrisMarie’s LinkedIn and Facebook with tips, tools and inspiration. To contact us, email, that’s

Susan: Okay, stay safe, stay healthy and remember, together we’re better and stronger.

CrisMarie: Take care.


CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

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