Sheila Heen, co-author of Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most, is providing expert advice in a series of columns on family and other kinds of conflicts. Here’s one of my favorite passages from this week’s column — she’s explaining some of the reasons people experience conflict so differently:
Emotional math. Everyone gets frustrated, resentful, disappointed, or even enraged with others on occasion. It may come out as shouting, sarcasm, snippiness, or simply a put-upon silence. In those moments, we don’t see our emotional behavior as a big deal. They’re the ones who were being unusually annoying, it was a tense situation, you were tired. You know that your anger in that moment is not who you “really are.”
But to the other person, your anger is exactly who you are. Your emotional display is not incidental – it’s at the heart of the story they tell of what happened between you. From their point of view, your anger is the threat – the very thing they were coping with in that moment.
So you will tend to subtract your own emotions from the story, while the other person counts your emotions, say, double. And the same is true in reverse: You count their emotional reactions double, while they subtract them.
Hat tip to Liz Tippett.