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How to Engage Men in Emotional Dialogue

You would like your Boomer husband or boyfriend to open up more and talk about his emotions. He’s probably aware of his feelings; he just hasn’t said them out loud very often. He may be fearful about getting into this emotional dialogue arena with you because he knows you’re far more skilled. He needs to feel absolute trust with you before he attempts what he probably considers a death-defying act. Opening his heart with you may be a first for him in a relationship. His feeling safe is important. You already knew that an authentic relationship requires emotional dialogue, so your patience while he tries to speak from his heart is critical towards achieving this goal.

He’s likely going to have to overcome lifelong, negative feelings that trace back to his boyhood. His lesson was simple; acting like a man meant never showing or talking about physical or emotional pain. Need proof regarding how difficult talking about feelings is for men? Ask any ten men how they feel about something, and nine will respond by telling you what they think, instead. Getting him to engage in this conversation with you is a high bar for him to hurdle. His senses of safety and trust are tantamount for his success.

The point you want to share is that he can only get what he wants or needs from you if he knows how to ask for it, based on his feelings. If you and your partner follow these simple guidelines, you can deepen the intimacy in your relationship, and move it to the next level. While helping him in this endeavor isn’t your responsibility, your relationship will benefit exponentially, so consider helping him as an act of love instead of a thankless task.

1. Explain to your partner that you’re willing to abide by specific conditions if he’s willing to share what’s in his heart. Assure him in no uncertain terms that he won’t receive any judgment, opinions, or criticism from you when he’s finished, because you recognize that his feelings, like yours, are his absolute truth. Everything spoken from his heart is his truth, and as such, is not open for debate. Alternatively, his thoughts are simply his opinions, and are always open for debate. It may take a while before he’s able to separate the two and handle each as different entities.

2. Suggest that he take a few moments before speaking to connect with how he’s feeling, in his body. Is he anxious or nervous? Let him know that you’ll wait while those feelings dissipate before he shares, and that pausing might help him to more easily convey the appropriate emotions. It’s important that you wait until he’s completely finished sharing his feelings with you before responding. He may stumble a bit and need your patience while he tries to make his point. Feeling that he has control of his end of the emotional dialogue will afford him a sense of autonomy.

3. Remember, the point of asking him to share his feelings with you wasn’t to please you, but rather, to have him speak from his heart to you, without fear. You wanted to discover how he feels about you and your relationship, and now he’s told you. Whatever follows, he’s learned a critical relationship communication skill, and you’ve gotten a better sense of what direction your relationship is headed. That’s invaluable information towards building a better working relationship. He’s your equal partner now in an arena few men dare enter with a woman. Thanking him for what was probably a Herculean effort, will encourage additional emotional dialogue in the future. This is a win/win, by anyone’s standards.

Ron Huxley’s Reply: This isn’t the typical parenting post for the Parenting Toolbox blog but perhaps it should be…So many women complain over the lack of emotional sharing from dad. They assume this is due to “complacency” or lack of “compliance” (i.e., stubbornness). Often, the real reason is due to “competence” or lack of experience/education. It could also be due to low “capacity.” This last area is usually a result of early life trauma that many men suffer but society refuses to acknowledge.

Next time you are frustrated with your husband, try to be patient and take the time to retrain them. Nagging only backfires!

Putting on Your Anger Management Tool Belt

This article was written some time ago on how to deal with anger in the workplace. I think it a powerful resource for parents at home as well…Enjoy!

Do you wake up in the morning with your stomach tied up in knots? Does the thought of going to work and dealing with your co-workers seem unbearable? Have you ever thought that if you never had to deal with people, your job would be great? Family therapist Ron Huxley shares some tools for conflict resolution.

Use prevention to avoid problems

It is easier to deal with a problem or a problem person if you know it is coming. It’s when you are surprised by a co-worker’s rude behavior that you’re unable to cope with him. Knowing that a co-worker will be rude to you gives you time to plan how you will handle him.

It doesn’t mean to plan how you will be equally rude back to him. It means finding a way to protect you emotionally and then turn the situation around, if possible. Finding the right tool for the job to do just that is where most of us get stuck.

The anger tool belt

Dealing with problems is like fixing a household appliance. You need to know how the appliance works and you need the right tools for the job. When you plan to deal with your angry co-worker, you will need an anger tool belt filled with an assortment of anger management tools.

Tool #1: Labels

Perhaps the most basic tool available to us is communication. If your co-worker barks at you when asked about an overdue report, respond to him by labeling his feelings. For example, stating “You’re angry at me right now” can actually reduce his anger towards you. The most basic reason for this is that your co-worker suddenly feels understood. It is far easier to be angry with people who don’t listen then it is for people who do.

Labels let the air out of the proverbial balloon before it fills up and explodes. It gives you mastery over the emotion by taking the person out of the emotion, makes it a force of its own, to be handled and managed. Most arguments focus on personal attacks and not the problem to be solved. Giving an emotion, like anger, a label allows you to acknowledge the emotion and move on to finding a solution separate from blaming one another.

Your co-worker, expecting a retort, may look momentarily stunned by your new response and then mutter, “Yeah, I’m buried up to eyeballs with work. Give me ‘til Friday and I’ll have the report ready.” At that point the two of you can negotiate a time for the report that is mutually acceptable.

Tool #2: Negotiation

Negotiation skills are essential in dealing with angry people. Negotiation is a tool that allows for a win/win situation to occur between two parties who do not already mutually agree. It has several steps:

Step 1: Know what is negotiable and not negotiable. If next Friday is not an acceptable time for the report, you are in a much better position to negotiate and not feel used by him. Specify, matter of factly, what is and is not an acceptable time for the report.

Step 2: Be open-minded. Be willing to listen and consider the other person’s viewpoint. Stephen Covey, in his book the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” suggests that you seek first to understand the other person before you ask to be understood. You will increase your co-worker’s cooperation by asking him to tell you what is troubling him first.

Step 3: Set a time limit. Keep the negotiation time short to prevent the discussion from getting off track. It usually ends up in blaming each other for one’s problems. Keep things on the topic at hand and to the point no matter how much they get off topic.

Step 4: Keep it private. Don’t embarrass your co-worker by negotiating in public. He will be more likely to react negatively if he thinks others are watching him. Ask to talk to him in a private room.

Step 5: Stay calm and cool. Don’t try to negotiate when feeling angry, tired, or preoccupied with other things. If the situation gets too hot, suggest taking a few minutes to cool off and then resume the negotiation. Set this up as a ground rule before negotiating if you think a heated discussion is likely.

Step 6: Acknowledge the others’ point of view. Even if your co-worker is totally off base, acknowledge his feelings about the report. They are important to him even if they are irrational. One way to do this is to say, “I can see how you could feel the way you do given your work load.”

Step 7: Restate the final solution once it is reached. Most failures to cooperate after a negotiation is due to a misunderstanding about what EXACTLY were agreed upon. Write it in memo form if that seems necessary.

Of course, labels and negotiation may not be enough. Your co-worker may continue to be rude and attacking even when you acknowledging his anger. Negotiation may falter because he refuses to budge. No matter how you try to communicate, his obnoxious behavior is unrelenting. That’s when you use the tool of change.

Tool #3: Change Your Situation

Many people believe that they have no choice but to put up with the co-worker’s obnoxious behavior. They let people walk over them because they are in positions of power. It might be a boss who has the power to fire you or your spouse who can make your life miserable or your co-worker who won’t give you the report you need to make you look irresponsible. The reality is that you always have a choice. You can change yourself, the stressor, or the situation. Notice that changing the other person was not one of the choices listed here although that is the one most often chosen. It is also the one that is the least effective. You have no guarantees that you can change the other person. You always have a 100% guarantee to change yourself. But isn’t that being a victim? No, you are never a victim when you choose what and how to change.

You can change yourself by taking care of yourself. Are you getting enough exercise and sleep? What is your diet like? Do you spend a few moments meditating or engaging in relaxing activities every day? The better you take care of yourself, the better you can deal with that angry co-worker.

You can change yourself by changing how you respond to angry people. Using the communication tools above is a step in the right direction. Your co-worker expects you to act in a pre-programmed manner. Call it a dance. He leads and you follow. Changing the dance steps changes the dance.

You can change the stressor by getting more organized. Perhaps if you were more organized you could have asked your co-worker for the report earlier in the week lessening the chances of an angry reaction from him. The more organized you are the better you are able to cope with unexpected problems or problem people.

You can also change your work situation. You don’t have to stay where you are. You might think that you do, for whatever reason, but it is still a choice you are making. Even if you stay in the job you have now, you can always ask to be reassigned to a new department or share a new cubicle with another employee.

There are always choices. And having choices empowers us to deal with angry people in a more confident manner.

Finding a little serenity

Let’s be honest: Life is difficult. This is a basic truth of various wisdom traditions and perhaps, of common sense. But the fact that life is full of problems, shouldn’t be your focus. Your focus should be on how will you respond to problems and problem people. Don’t be surprised by them when you know they will rear their ugly heads again and again. Instead, get a plan and a tool belt full of anger management tools.

Use these tools to change your life so that you don’t wake up every morning with a knot in your stomach. Work on you and you may be pleasantly surprised by the results it creates in others. One way of looking at all of this is the Serenity Prayer popularized by the Alcoholics Anonymous movement. Hey, why should millions of people have all the good stuff? If it helps them overcome alcoholism, maybe it can help you deal with angry people.

The Serenity Prayer goes something like this: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Finding a little serenity means changing what we can, the best way that we can and not stressing over what we can’t change, namely other people.