Category Archives: Why So Emotional?

Running Scared

“There’s nothing I’m afraid of like scared people.” – Robert Frost

The Danger of Using Fear to Motivate

I know it sounds crazy, but a lot of people out there really like to be scared out of their wits. Think about it for a minute. What rides do we love the best at amusement parks? We – and I am using the word “we” editorially because it does not include “me” in this instance – we stand in long lines for the faster, higher, bigger, scarier rides that get the adrenaline pumping, right? And that’s just for fun. We also love horror movies and suspense thrillers, not to mention the scariest of all holidays – Halloween.

As store displays and ads already anticipate, on October 31 we celebrate All Hallows Eve. This holiday founded as a feast to commemorate of the onset of winter after the harvest and later as a remembrance for saints has grown to include a celebration of themes of death, ghosts, ghouls, monsters, vampires, and other assorted and sordid creatures. Sales of candy, costumes, and decorations have grown into over a $5 billion a year month long event each October.

It is interesting that fear is a source of fun as we enjoy the excitement and the rush of feeling like we are in danger. However, it is very easy to cross the line between fun and fright when it comes to scary things. For instance, imagine one of those reverse bungee catapult carnival rides. Now imagine it without seatbelts or harnesses!

Fear is an emotion that is rooted in the desire to survive in the face of danger. When we are threatened in ways that go beyond thrill seeking we find that fear is really scary. To be genuinely afraid affects every part of who we are, mind, body, and soul. Because fear is such a powerful emotion, and because it can be manipulated in so many ways, some have taken to using fear to try to motivate others. We fear the unknown and as a result bosses and spouses, friends and family can use fear, rational or irrational, to motivate our actions and attitudes. This is especially true in tough times. The more uncertain we are the more afraid we may become.

On the surface it looks like using fear to motivate really works. It does cause an initial outward change in behavior. The trouble is that using a negative reinforcement to produce a positive behavioral result is usually doomed to fail. The best training methods for employees, children, and even pets are those which employ positive reinforcement and praise to reward good and right behavior coupled with corrective training when mistakes are made. Notice, I said corrective training, not punishment. There is an important difference. One is positive and the other negative.

It is better that people look for a good consequence to their actions than live in fear and dread of a negative consequence. Being motivated by fear will lead people to seek to avoid attention. They hide, and in the event that they do mess up, instead of being sorry for doing something wrong they are more likely to be sorry they got caught.

Using fear to motivate is a bad idea because it increases stress, irrational reactions, and poor judgment. Genuine fright drives people into a mentality of fight or flight – that is, they decide to fight what scares them, or they decide to run away. This breeds rebellious and contemptuous attitudes which lead to open confrontations or an abandonment of responsibility altogether.

In the workplace we need to learn that people are more motivated by things that make them feel secure than by things that threaten them. For example, which employee will do a consistently better job with a better attitude, one with affirmation, job security, and positive training, or one who is constantly being threatened with the loss of his job?

In simple terms it is like training a dog to fetch a stick. If the dog is praised when he retrieves the stick then he is learning about the positive rewards that come with playing the game. If instead, he fetches and then we hit him with the stick, it will not take long for the dog to decide he does not want to play this particular game any more.

As we strive to stay motivated and to motivate those around us we have to keep in mind that positive reinforcement yields much better results than negative. Positive thinking at work keeps us focused on our jobs. Negative thinking keeps us focused on our worries, fears, and uncertainties. Where should we be focused?

Applying these ideas to customer service, let’s read what Kristin Zhivago has written.

“When it comes to selling, the most important thing you can observe is your customers. What they believe and what they do is where your money comes from. We get a return from whatever we put our energy and time into. We only have so much energy and time. If you put your energy into fear, you will realize your fears. If you put your energy into meeting customer needs, you will get more customers – no matter what the economy is doing, no matter what the news media is saying, no matter what is happening all around you.”

So, are you scared? Don’t be. Instead remember, “All we have to fear is fear itself.”

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You’re Not the Boss of Me

“Painful as it may be, a significant emotional event can be the catalyst for choosing a direction that serves us-and those around us – more effectively. Look for the learning.” – Louisa May Alcott

Whether we are talking about communication, customer service, dealing with mistakes, or dealing with idiots, much of the way we relate to one another at home and in the work place is based on our emotions. We are emotional beings. We have the ability to feel a range of things, good and bad, and these emotions affect the way we think and the way we interact with others. In fact, most marketing is aimed at our feelings. Why is that? Because as Zig Ziglar said, “People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.” Marketers, movie makers, and motivational speakers all have this in common – they want to make us feel a certain way so that we will then think and act a certain way. Appealing to emotions is the most basic form of manipulation and when we move someone emotionally we can influence them in ways they may not even realize.

The danger here is that people are playing with each others emotions, and when our emotions are tied into our imagination and used to drive our desires then we may find that we become over stimulated and before long fantasy and reality are indistinguishable. Not to mention the fact that we live in a world of emotional extremes. On one hand things are hyped way out of proportion; on the other hand we are often taught to hide how we feel. Remember, if “big girls don’t cry,” then surely boys should never express their emotions much less ever even think about shedding tears. Beside that, “there is no crying in baseball” or in any other public venue. We have been taught to seek emotional thrills (think amusement parks and the rides that get more and more exciting) all the while learning to keep so-called negative emotions bottled up and out of view.

These extremes are destructive for several reasons. First it is emotionally, mentally, and physically harmful to hold everything inside. Emotions are meant to be expressed. If we bottle it all up then we will eventually explode. It is not healthy to keep it all in. Doing so promotes depression and has even been tied to physical problems. Secondly in keeping it private we isolate ourselves. No wonder so many people feel so alone. Often when our emotions are the lowest we are alone and refuse to allow others to see what we are going through. There is tremendous wisdom in the teaching that we are to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. Our sense of belonging flows from sharing our experiences as an emotional “community”. Further, if we try to bear our emotional burdens alone, especially grief and sadness, we find that it can be too much to bear. We are overwhelmed. When others help us carry the burden by being there with us and for us (even if they do not say a word!) we will find that we can endure the most trying of times.

On the other hand there are those who are so open with their emotions that they are a constant drain on the people around them. They are emotional to the extreme, and whether happy or sad, mad or glad, they never feel anything half way as they go bouncing off the walls down the hall. Emotional release for them is like an Olympic sport and they always go for the gold. This kind of emotional expression is also unhealthy. It drains us and in fact it prevents us from feeling “normal.” If things are constantly hyped up emotionally then when things are normal we will feel bored and disinterested. Further, if we are always over-reacting to things, then we tend to need more and more emotional stimulation to get the same “feeling”. In other words, we start to become desensitized and emotionally numb.

Whether we need to be more open about how we feel, or whether we are often a basket case and need to learn how to control ourselves, we all need to find a balance. Our emotions are so foundational to the way we think and act that we cannot let them run all over us. How often is it that we feel like our emotions are indeed in control? If this is the case and we fall into either extreme then our emotions really are in charge and that is not healthy or beneficial. As contrary as it sounds, we have to be rational about our emotions. We have to be in charge. We start by saying to our emotions, “You’re not the boss of me!” Otherwise our feelings will be easily manipulated by others who push our buttons. But how can we be in charge? Can we actually change the way we feel? Can we balance out the extremes and learn to express our emotions in a healthy way? Of course we can, but it will require a little thought.

We do need to admit that there are times that we will not be able to control our emotions. At those times we need friends and family around us. Those who care for us the most can best walk with us through those emotions. Experiencing emotions is a good thing. Emotions enhance our lives and our interactions with others; however, most of the time our emotions need to be kept in check. The ability to feel is an amazing blessing but we usually find that unbridled emotions make things worse. When our emotions get out of control we are prone to say or do things that affect our relationships with others is a negative way. So how can we achieve emotional well being? Where is the balance?

We find that emotional rationality is found when we decide not to mistake our feelings for facts. What do I mean? The truth is, just because we feel something does not make it so. What is real? For example, if we feel like there is a bear chasing us in the woods we will run just as fast and be just as frightened as if a bear is actually chasing us – even if there is no bear. When there is nothing there going bump in the night, if we feel like it is there, we will react a certain way as a result. We have mistaken our feelings for facts. But is what we feel always the truth? Can our emotions deceive us? Can we be manipulated? What are we to do then?

We need a reality check. We need to stop and think. We need to ask questions. The key to emotional rationality is actually curiosity. We must not just assume that because we feel a certain way then that is the way it is. We must seek to know the truth. We all know when we are being emotional, and usually we see the brink just before we topple over it and lose control. We have to teach ourselves how to calm down and stop and think when we see the brink on the horizon. Is this easy? Of course not; most things that are really worth doing never are. If we can learn how to see it coming and work to avoid extremes then we can manage our emotions. This does not mean we inhibit how we feel. It means we get the most out of our emotions without letting them get the most of us.

To sum it up we need to think about three things as we seek to understand our emotions. The three are Fact, Faith, and Feeling. Facts define reality or the truth. Faith is belief. So what do we believe? Do we have Faith in our Feelings and mistake our emotions for reality? Instead we need to have Faith in the Facts. If we take the time to think about it, and if we ask questions, we can learn to find the truth and then emote accordingly. When we have Faith in the Facts then our Feelings will follow.

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