Conflict Resolution: Expressing Feelings

Let’s further our discussion on the source of conflict. Conflict is something that cannot be avoided. It ALWAYS occurs. That doesn’t mean that it has to be uncomfortable, unpleasant or negative in any way. If understood correctly, conflict is merely difference; difference in belief, ways of doing things, style, etc. The negative aspect of conflict occurs within each individual when they resist the feelings by judging them as somehow “bad.”

Learning to Nurture Ourselves

When we get angry it is because we have not learned how to feel the feelings that are associated with concepts such as loss, worry, and doubt. Now, of course, these types of feelings are natural and normal, but if not properly managed they can cause serious damage. The first step to finding peace is to accept a very harsh reality; no one causes another to become angry, sad, disappointed, etc. The largest misconception I have come across is the notion that another person causes us to feel our feelings. Every single feeling that we have is caused by our perception of what occurred. When we feel sad, angry, upset, and are not able to manage our uncomfortable feelings it is because we have not learned how to process them. Our minds have the tendency to look in the wrong direction for the source of the pain it feels. It looks outside of itself instead of looking within itself. Learning to nurture ourselves cannot happen until we stop looking for something outside of us to do the nurturing. It may seem insensitive and possibly selfish to think this way, but consider the alternative. Until we begin making the source of our uncomfortable feelings our own perception, we are like caged dogs who can only be freed if the “master” opens the cage.

We cripple ourselves by depending on an outside agent (person, place or thing) to change in a way we want so that we can feel better. It is impossible to get those people and circumstances to change in exactly the way we want. And this is where we go wrong. Rather than trying to change the “external” into an exact replica of our desires, it is far more realistic and practical to attempt to influence the “external” towards what we want. The word towards is key because within its essence is the notion of process, which also entails things like patience, allowing, moving, steps of success and the creative process in general. Remember, I am not suggesting that your feelings should be anything other than what they are. It is easy to think that I might be suggesting that we should alter our feelings in some way or that they should be something different if they occur from within us instead of from the outside. That’s just not the case. Your feelings are ALWAYS perfect and NEVER need to be anything other than what they are. Ironically, the ability to accept them as they occur and allow them to surface, be expressed as fully as possible depending on the circumstance, offers the very nurturing that they require. Imagine what it would be like if you had to go the the bathroom, but couldn’t release our urine. Many problems would occur within our physiology that would have lasting damaging effects. The same occurs with our feelings, yet the problems take longer to show themselves. We have accepted ulcers as a bi-product of unexpressed feelings, and the reality is that many of our physical symptoms occur because of unexpressed feelings. This is easy to state and not-so-easy to practice. Below are a few steps to assist you in the practice of nurturing your own feelings.

Simple Tips

Feelings Versus Thoughts and Beliefs

Feelings and thoughts are different, but also are one and the same. They are like the head and tail of a coin. We react to events with both thoughts and feelings. Feelings are emotions, and sensations, and they are different from thoughts, beliefs, interpretations, and convictions. When difficult feelings are expressed, the sharp edges are dulled, and it is easier to release or let go of the bad feeling. If we only express our beliefs about the event and not the feelings, the bad feelings linger and are often harder to release. Whenever someone says, “I feel that,” the person is about to express a belief, not a feeling.

Guidelines For Expressing Feelings

Try to be specific rather than general about how you feel. Consistently using only one or two words to say how you are feeling, such as bad or upset, is too vague and general. What kind of bad or upset? (irritated, mad, anxious, afraid, sad, hurt, lonely, etc.). Specify the degree of the feelings, and you will reduce the chances of being misunderstood. For example, some people may think when you say, “I am angry” means you are extremely angry when you actually mean a “little irritated”. When expressing anger or irritation, first describe the specific behavior you don’t like, then your feelings. This helps to prevent the other person from becoming immediately defensive or intimidated when they first hear “I am angry with you”, and they could miss the message. If you have mixed feelings, say so, and express each feeling and explain what each feeling is about. For example: “I have mixed feelings about what you just did. I am glad and thankful that you helped me, but I didn’t like the comment about being stupid. It was disrespectful and unnecessary and I found it irritating”.

Techniques for Expressing Feelings

The two following – I feel statements and I messages will help you: Express feelings productively. Respectfully confront someone when you are bothered by his or her behavior. Express difficult feelings without attacking the self-esteem of the person. Clarify for you and the other person precisely what you feel. Prevent feelings from building up and festering into a bigger problem. Communicate difficult feelings in a manner that minimizes the other person’s need to become defensive, and increases the likelihood that the person will listen. When you first start using these techniques they will be cumbersome and awkward to apply, and not very useful if you only know them as techniques. However, if you practice these techniques and turn them into skills, it will be easy for you to express difficult feelings in a manner that is productive and respectful.

Which of the two methods you use for expressing your feelings should depend on your goal, the importance or difficulty of your feelings and the situation.

1. I feel statements are used in situations that are clear and fairly simple, when you what to express yourself and avoid a buildup of feelings without attacking or hurting the self-esteem of the other.

2. I messages are used in more complex situations to clarify for yourself and the other person just what you are feeling when a) you have difficult negative feelings, b) you confront someone and want them to change their behavior, and c) it is very sensitive and important that the other person accurately understand.

I Feel Statements

These statements take the form of “When you did that thing I felt this way. That thing is a behavior of the other person, and this way is your specific feelings. Here are some examples: “I felt embarrassed when you told our friends how we are pinching pennies.” “I liked it when you helped with the dishes without being asked.” “I feel hurt and am disappointed that you forgot our anniversary”.

I Messages

It is called an I message because the focus is on you, and the message is about yourself. This is in contrast to a You message which focuses on and gives a message about the other person. When using I messages you take responsibility for your own feelings, rather than accusing the other person of making you feel a certain way. A You message does not communicate a feeling, but a belief about the other person. The essence of an I message is “I have a problem”, while the essence of a You message is “You have a problem”. There are four parts to an I message:

1. When … Describe the person’s behavior you are reacting to in an objective, non-blameful, and non-judgmental manner.
2. The effects are … Describe the concrete or tangible effects of that behavior. (This is the most important part for the other person to understand – your reaction.)
3. I feel … Say how you feel. (This is the most important part to prevent a buildup of feelings.)
4. I’d prefer … Tell the person what you want or what you prefer they do. You can omit this part if it is obvious.

The order in which you express these parts is usually not important. Here are some examples: ” When you take company time for your personal affairs and then don’t have time to finish the urgent work I give you, I get furious. I want you to finish the company’s work before you work on your personal affairs.” “I lose my concentration when you come in to ask a question, and I don’t like it. Please don’t interrupt me when I am working unless it is urgent.” “It is very hard for me to keep our place neat and clean when you leave your clothes and other stuff laying around. It creates a lot more work for me and it takes a lot longer, and I get resentful about it. I’d prefer that you put your clothes away and put your trash in the basket.” “I resent it when your flirting with the women keeps you from having time for your work, because it means more work for me.”

Common Mistakes

Not expressing a feeling at all, expressing a belief or judgment. Sending a disguised You message. Only expressing negative feelings. The nonverbal body language contradicting the words. For example, smiling when irritated. Practice these techniques and turn them into useful skills. Make it easy for yourself to spontaneously express difficult feelings in a manner that is productive and respectful.


About Shawn Athanasios

A little bit about me. I received my BA from California State University, Northridge in Speech Communication and my MA in Culture and Communication from New York University (NYU). My Master’s degree was within the field of Interpersonal Communication and Conflict Management and my thesis topic was Meta-Cognition and Human Defensiveness. I wrote about the importance of individuals learning how to understand their defensiveness and negative thinking habits as a way to improve the overall cohesiveness within their human relationships. Curerently, I am an Adjunct Professor at SAE Institute, and my pasrt teaching experience includes several of the top Universities in the U.S. (NYU, LIM College, Pace University, Manhattan College & Georgia State University). My teaching experience includes the following courses: Interviewing Strategies, Intro to Human Communication and Culture, Interpersonal Communication, Small Group Communication, Principals and Theories of Communication, Public Speaking and Theories of Speech Communication I decided to create my own Coaching Business (JAAS Coaching) under the umbrella of Personal and Career Development for those looking to enhance their current profession, change careers, discover their deepest passions, communicate and manage conflict more effectively, achieve high levels of motivation, and find balance with their total self by offering a holistic approach to career and personal development. My eBook, "The Soul Search Before the Job Search," encompasses all of my work as a Personal and Executive Coach. My website/blog is www.JAAScoaching.comLinks to an external site. I have had many fulfilling experiences that include being raised in Laos, Ghana, India & Egypt by parents of the U.S. Foreign Service and Diplomatic community, teaching ESL in South Korea, serving as a Primary Counselor for kids out of Juvenile Hall, and mentoring grade school children through a Psychologist’s referred program. In addition, I am proud to have received a full scholarship for my Masters Degree at NYU, to have been the sole recipient of the Rosenberg scholarship and for graduating Magna Cum Laude upon completion of my graduate degree. I also presented two papers at the New York Speech Communication Association (NYSCA) conference while at Graduate School where I discussed the importance of taking full ownership of one’s shortcomings as essential to inducing change within oneself and one’s environment and how to be an effective interpersonal communicator. And finally, I was voted Faculty of The Year and Georgia State University after just one semester on the job! The article can be found on my website/blog. My volunteer work is reflected through participating in Buddhist Activities as a member of the Soka Gakkai International, the largest Buddhist lay organization in the world. Previously, I was the Young Men’s Division Leader for Houston District, I transcribed the World Tribune to audiotapes for the blind Buddhist members, I published an article in the Soka Gakkai’s Living Buddhism magazine and was a volunteer staff writer for the organization’s newspaper (The World Tribune). I continues to lead group discussions on Nichiren Buddhist Theory.
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