Most of us have heard that communication is the key to good relationships. Let’s explore how communication can enhance or damage relationships depending on the mood that we’re in and the perspective of the listener.
The ideas in this post come from The Relationship Handbook by George Pransky, which I highly recommend. Here's a thought experiment from that book.
Imagine you’re in the lobby of a movie theatre. You’re standing in line to buy tickets when a burly man walks in front of you and steps on your toe. He offers no apology, in fact he acts like you don’t exist. What would you want to say to him? As he turns toward you, you notice his white cane and black glasses. What would you want to say now? How did your mood change?
We tend to think that our feelings are driven by our circumstances, when really our feelings are driven by our thoughts about our circumstances.
Our mood has a huge impact on us and others. It shows up in our body language, in what we say and in what we hear. When we’re in a low mood, our communication tends to have a negative tone to it. When we are in a high mood, we take things less personally and tend to be more forgiving. Due to mirror neurons others feel what we feel – they can catch our mood. When we communicate when we’re in a bad mood, it can lead to a downward emotional spiral that can harm our relationships.
So what’s a person to do when they are angry, sad or experiencing a low mood?
Recognize you are in a low mood. Some signs to look for
An unpleasant feeling
You’re taking things more personally
It seems like circumstances have created the feeling
Your thinking feels rushed
Don’t dwell on your mood or try to change it. It will change on its own as your thinking changes. By observing our thoughts in an unattached way, we see how fleeting they are, as they were when we thought about the burly man.
Avoid making important decisions or have important conversations when you’re in a low mood. Actions taken at these times will reflect the less effectively thinking that comes with low moods. Share your concerns when you’re feeling calmer, if you still think the issue is important.
If you recognize a low mood in someone else, find compassion for them by looking past their behavior to the troubled state of mind that motivated the behavior. Focus on their humanity. This is different than sympathizing. If you sympathize by relating what they are experiencing to something in your past, you could end up in a lower mood too.
What impact would taking these steps have on your life? Some impacts George Pransky has seen repeatedly in couples therapy are stronger relationships, increased conscious decision making instead of reacting, and increased happiness.
I challenge you to try these ideas and see what the impact is on your relationships.