Emotional Messages

Chapter 7

Emotional Messages

Can you choose the emotions you feel? Or do outside circumstances make you feel different emotions? It’s a difficult question and theorists do not agree over whether you can choose the emotions you feel. Some argue that you can; others argue that you cannot. You are, however, in control of the ways in which you express your emotions. Whether you choose to express your emotions depends on your own attitudes about emotional expression. You may wish to explore your attitudes about expressing feelings by responding to the following questions. Respond with T if you feel the statement is a generally true description of your attitudes about expressing emotions, or with F if you feel the statement is a generally false description of your attitudes.

____ 1. Expressing feelings is healthy; it reduces stress and prevents wasting energy on concealment. ____ 2. Expressing feelings can help others understand you.

____ 3. Emotional expression is often an effective means of persuading others to do as you wish.

____ 4. Expressing feelings can lead to interpersonal relationship problems.

____ 5. Expressing emotions may lead others to perceive you negatively.

____ 6. Emotional expression can lead to greater and not less stress; expressing anger, for example, may actually increase your feelings of anger.

These statements are arguments that are often made for and against expressing emotions. Statements 1, 2, and 3 are arguments made in favor of expressing emotions; statements 4, 5, and 6 are arguments made against expressing emotions. You can look at your responses as revealing (in part) your attitude favoring or opposing the expression of feelings. “True” responses to statements 1, 2, and 3 and “false” responses to statements 4, 5, and 6 indicate a favorable attitude to expressing feelings. “False” responses to statements 1, 2, and 3 and “true” responses to statements 4, 5, and 6 indicate a negative attitude. There is evidence suggesting that expressing emotions can lead to all six outcomes, both positive and negative, and underscores the importance of critically assessing your options for emotional expression and being flexible, remembering that what will work in one situation will not work in another. If you decide to communicate your feelings, you need to make several decisions. For example, you have to choose how to do so—face-to-face, letter, social media post, phone, e-mail, text message, or office memo. And you have to choose the specific emotions you will and will not reveal. Finally, you have to choose the words and nonverbals you’d use in expressing your emotions. Some of the more difficult interpersonal communication situations are those that involve emotions, which we can define simply as strong feelings. This chapter addresses this crucial topic; it offers insight into the nature of emotions and emotional expression, discusses some of the obstacles to communicating emotions, and presents suggestions for communicating emotions and for responding to the emotions of others.

A useful backdrop to this discussion is to identify some of the reasons you communicate emotions—whether happy news (getting a large bonus or finding the love of your life) or sad news (the death of a loved one or getting fired). Here are just three (Rime, 2007; Dean, 2011):

• You want/need to vent. You want catharsis, to reveal your feelings.

• You want/need attention, support, or advice. You want/need people to pay attention to you, to offer you consolation, or to give you suggestions for what you should do now. • You want/need to bond—to strengthen your relationship—and so you might share similar emotional experiences to show your understanding and empathy.

DeVito, Joseph A.. Interpersonal Communication Book, The (Page 170). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.

Principles of Emotions and Emotional Messages

7.1 Describe the principles governing emotions and emotional expression. Communicating emotions, or feelings, is difficult. It’s difficult because your thinking often gets confused when you’re intensely emotional. It’s also difficult because you probably weren’t taught how to communicate emotions—and you probably have few effective models to imitate. Communicating emotions is also important. Feelings constitute a great part of your meanings. If you leave your feelings out, or if you express them inadequately, you fail to communicate a great part of your meaning. For example, consider what your communications would be like if you left out your feelings when talking about failing a recent test, winning the lottery, becoming a parent, getting engaged, driving a car for the first time, becoming a citizen, or being promoted to supervisor. Emotional expression is so much a part of communication that even in the cryptic e-mail message style, emoticons are becoming more popular. So important is emotional communication that it is at the heart of what is now called emotional intelligence or social intelligence (Goleman, 1995a). One very important aspect of emotional intelligence is that it enables you to distinguish between those emotions that are relevant to your choices and those emotions that are irrelevant and thereby improve your decision making (Yip & Cote, 2013; Dean, 2013). This chapter is, in fact, a primer of emotional intelligence. The inability to engage in emotional communication—as sender and as receiver—is part of the learning disability known as dyssemia, a condition in which individuals are unable to read appropriately the nonverbal messages of others or to communicate their own meanings nonverbally (Duke & Nowicki, 2005). Persons suffering from dyssemia, for example, look uninterested, fail to return smiles, and use facial expressions that are inappropriate to the situation and the interaction. As you can imagine, people who are poor senders and receivers of emotional messages likely have problems in developing and maintaining relationships. When interacting with such people, you’re likely to feel uncomfortable because of their inappropriate emotional communication (Goleman, 1995a). Let’s look first at several general principles of emotions and emotional expression; these will establish a foundation for our consideration of the skills of emotional competence.

Emotions Occur in Stages

Although there are conflicting theories about emotions, all agree that emotions occur in stages. Consider how you would describe what happens when you experience emotional arousal. Most people would identify these stages: (1) An event occurs. (2) You experience an emotion such as surprise, joy, or anger. (3) You respond physiologically; your heart beats faster, your face flushes, and so on. The process would go like this:

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Psychologist William James and physiologist Carl Lange offered a different explanation to the previous “commonsense” theory. Their theory places the physiological arousal before the experience of the emotion. The sequence of events according to the James– Lange theory is: (1) An event occurs. (2) You respond physiologically. (3) You experience an emotion; for example, you feel joy or sadness. This process would look like this:

According to a third explanation, the cognitive labeling theory, you interpret the physiological arousal and, on the basis of this, experience the emotions of joy, sadness, or whatever (Reisenzein, 1983; Schachter, 1971). The sequence goes like this: (1) An event occurs. (2) You respond physiologically. (3) You interpret this arousal—that is, you decide what emotion you’re experiencing. (4) You experience the emotion. Your interpretation of your arousal depends on the situation you’re in. For example, if you experience an increased pulse rate after someone you’ve been admiring smiles at you, you may interpret this as joy. If three suspicious-looking strangers approach you on a dark street, however, you may interpret that same increased heartbeat as fear. It’s only after you make the interpretation that you experience the emotion, for example, the joy or the fear. This process looks like this: process. Each of these diagrams needs another stage, the stage of expression, the stage at which you make a choice about what to do and what to say.

Emotions May Be Primary or Blended

How would you feel in each of the following situations? • You won the lottery. • You got the job you applied for. • Your best friend just died. • Your parents tell you they’re getting divorced. You would obviously feel very differently in each of these situations. In fact, each feeling is unique and unrepeatable. Yet amid all these differences, there are some similarities. For example, most people would agree that the first two sets of feelings are more similar to each other than they are to the last two. Similarly, the last two are more similar to each other than they are to the first two. To capture the similarities and differences among emotions, one researcher identifies the basic or primary emotions (Havlena, Holbrook, & Lehmann, 1989; Plutchik, 1980): joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger, and anticipation (Figure 7.1). This model of emotions is especially useful for viewing the broad scale of emotions, their relationships to each other, and their varied combinations. View it as a wheel spread out. Emotions that are close to each other on this wheel are also close to each other in meaning. For example, joy and anticipation are more closely related than are joy and sadness or trust and disgust. Emotions that are opposite each other on the wheel are also opposite each other in their meaning. For example, joy is the opposite of sadness; anger is the opposite of fear.

DeVito, Joseph A.. Interpersonal Communication Book, The (Page 172). Pearson Education. Kindle In this model there are also blends. These blended emotions are combinations of the primary emotions. These are noted outside the emotion wheel. For example, according to this model, love is a blend of joy and trust. Remorse is a blend of disgust and sadness. Similar but milder emotions appear in lighter shades (for example, serenity is a milder joy) and stronger emotions appear in darker shades (for example, terror is a stronger fear).

Emotions Involve Both Body and Mind

Emotion involves both the body and the mind; when you experience emotion, you experience it both physically and mentally. Bodily reactions (such as blushing when you’re embarrassed) and mental evaluations and interpretations (as in estimating the likelihood of getting a yes response when you propose) interact. • The Body. Bodily reactions are the most obvious aspect of our emotional experience because we can observe them easily. Such reactions span a wide range and include, for example, the blush of embarrassment, the sweating palms that accompany nervousness, and the gestures (such as playing with your hair or touching your face) that go with discomfort. When you judge people’s emotions, you probably look to these nonverbal behaviors. You conclude that Ramon is happy to see you because of his smile and his open body posture. You conclude that Lisa is nervous from her damp hands, vocal hesitations, and awkward movements. • The Mind. The mental or cognitive part of emotional experience involves the evaluations and interpretations you make on the basis of what you experience. For example, leading psychotherapist Albert Ellis (1988; Ellis & Harper, 1975), whose insights are used throughout this chapter, claims that your evaluations of what happens have a greater influence on your feelings than what actually happens. Let us say, for example, that your best friend, Sally, ignores you in the college cafeteria. The emotions you feel depend on what you think this behavior means. You may feel pity if you figure that Sally is depressed because her father died. You may feel anger if you believe that Sally is simply rude and insensitive and snubbed you on purpose. Or you may feel sadness if you believe that Sally is no longer interested in being friends with you.

DeVito, Joseph A.. Interpersonal Communication Book, The (Page 173). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.

Emotions Are Influenced by a Variety of Factors

The emotions you feel at any one time and the ways in which you interpret the emotions of others are influenced by a variety of factors. Some of the most important are culture, gender, personality, and relationships. • Culture. The cultural context—the culture you were raised in and/or the culture you live in—gives you a framework for both expressing feelings and interpreting the emotions of others. A colleague of mine gave a lecture in Beijing, China, to a group of Chinese college students. The students listened politely but made no comments and asked no questions after her lecture. At first my colleague concluded that the students were bored and uninterested. Later, however, she learned that Chinese students show respect by being quiet and seemingly

passive. They think that asking questions would imply that she was not clear in her lecture. In other words, the culture—whether American or Chinese— influenced the interpretation of the students’ feelings. Another example: in one study, Japanese students, when asked to judge the emotion shown in a computer icon, looked to the eyes to determine the emotion. Students from the United States, however, focused on the mouth (Masuda, Ellsworth, Mesquita, Leu, Tanida, & van de Veerdonk, 2008; Yuki, Maddux, & Masuda, 2007). • Gender. Researchers agree that men and women experience emotions similarly (Cherulnik, 1979; Oatley & Duncan, 1994; Wade & Tavris, 2007). The differences that are observed are differences in the way emotions are expressed, not in the way they are felt. Men and women seem to have different gender display rules for what is and what isn’t appropriate to express, much as different cultures have different cultural display rules. We look into this topic of display rules in more detail in the next principle. • Personality. Your personality influences the emotions you feel, the extent to which you feel them, and, perhaps most important for our purposes, the ways in which you express or conceal these emotions. Extroverted people likely express emotions more readily and more openly, while those who are more introverted or suffer from communication apprehension are much less likely to express emotions. • Relationships. Relationships—whether friends, lovers, or family—can help to reduce stress. For example, in one study, those who had lots of friends on Facebook experience less stress, a greater sense of well-being, and fewer physical illnesses (Nabi, Prestin, & So, 2013). Of course, other types of relationships can increase stress.

Emotional Expression Uses Multiple Channels

As with most meanings, emotions are encoded both verbally and nonverbally. Your words, the emphasis you give them, and the gestures and facial expressions that accompany them all help to communicate your feelings. Conversely, you decode the emotional messages of others on the basis of their verbal and nonverbal cues. And, of course, emotions, like all messages, are most effectively communicated when verbal and nonverbal messages reinforce and complement each other. This principle has special implications for communication that’s exclusively text-based. When we express emotions in a face-to-face situation, we express the emotions with our words but also with our facial expressions, our body posture and gestures, our eye movements, our touching, and even the distance we maintain from others. In text-based messages, these cues are unavailable and so substitutes need to be found. There are two major substitutes. The first is to use words that describe the nonverbals that you would normally express. And so you’d talk about your smiling as you looked at the photo, your rapid heartbeat when the message came in, your scratching your head over the puzzle, and so on. That is, your words would depict your nonverbals. The other substitute is the emoticon or the Japanese emoji. These emotional symbols can, in many cases, very effectively substitute for the nonverbals that normally occur during face-to-face interaction.

Emotional Expression Is Governed by Display Rules

Display rules govern what is and what is not permissible emotional communication. Even within U.S. culture, there are differences. For example, in one study, Americans classified themselves into four categories: Caucasian, African American, Asian, and Hispanic/Latino. Just to make the point that different cultures teach different rules for the display of emotions, here are a few of the study’s findings (Matsumoto, 1994, 2009): (1) Caucasians found the expression of contempt more appropriate than did Asians; (2) African Americans and Hispanics felt that showing disgust was less appropriate than did Caucasians; (3) Hispanics rated public displays of emotion as less appropriate than did Caucasians; and (4) Caucasians rated the expression of fear as more appropriate than did Hispanics. Women talk more about feelings and emotions and use communication for emotional expression more than men do (Barbato & Perse, 1992). Perhaps because of this, they also express themselves facially more than men. Even junior and senior high school students show this gender difference. Research findings suggest that this difference may be due to differences in the brains of men and women; women’s brains