We have developed our vocabulary to analyze information, make excuses, and insult, more than our vocabulary to express our feelings and needs clearly. Our blind spots usually make assumptions that we are communicating our needs effectively. We assumed that our metaphors and body language should be enough. However, the receiver has magical powers, reads our minds, guesses the intentions, perhaps has a crystal ball at their homes to decode later our actual needs, right?

In our home, schools, or work environments, the authority figures have often educated and awarded us for following orders, suppressing our feelings and needs, perhaps looking to be accepted or just not be reprimanded…

Let’s face it! Some of us are not used to STOP, feel and identify our emotions and needs. Probably, just reading about it makes us feel anxious or skeptical about going there. When strong emotions are arising causing pain, the easier path is to ignore them and keep operating on autopilot, a route that we already know.

Emotions are a crucial leadership subject. Labeling our emotions sometimes is tricky, but it is the first step to get to know ourselves a little more, understand others’ perspectives and, express our needs effectively.

“It’s been shown that when people don’t acknowledge and address their emotions, they display lower wellbeing, and more physical symptoms of stress, like headaches. There is a high cost to avoiding our feelings.”
Susan David

Having the right words matters; peeling those layers of our everyday use vocabulary and finding the correct wording takes any messy experience into potential growth, personally and professionally. Understanding it more clearly allows us to build a roadmap to address the situation effectively and create the most profound connections.

Here are four steps that have been useful for me in labeling and feel my emotions more precisely.

1st step. Stop and breathe

Have you heard some advice like; remain calm, don’t take it personally? Well, when you are in the arena, that’s going to sound bullsh*t if you’re feeling your body getting a heat, your heart beating faster, perhaps your face blushing, BREATH but practice beforehand. Learn and practice everyday diaphragmatic breathing techniques; it lowers your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, helps you relax and cope with stress levels and anxiety.

2nd step. Observe your body and listen without judgment

I know this one it’s easy to say, hard to do, and that’s the reason I call it building a new habit. Integrating a new way of being is to fully be present and conscientiously when the old operating model is taking place. When we blend observation with evaluation, people tend to receive our message as criticism and put up resistance to our message. The observation must be based on the present moment and context, avoiding static generalizations.

“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest
form of intelligence”

J. Krishnamurti

Make a social experiment and on the next conversation you have, go with just the intention to be present, listening to the words, the body language, being curious, asking questions about the meaning behind others’ way of expression. There are so many layers to discover and explore in a conversation, once we get that, our relationships and collaborations will evolve, finding meaning in each interaction. Observe yourself on those interactions; am I reacting right away? Am I making assumptions? Is there any of my values hurt? Stop, breathe, and try again.

3rd step. Develop your emotional vocabulary

Take your time to understand and label those strong emotions. Trying new words and take a moment to feel how your body reacts to those words, you can pick several words for the same emotions and be surprised by what additional feelings you will discover beneath the autopilot vocabulary that we are accustomed to using. Neil Katz of Nova Southeastern University in Florida suggested using Feelings instead.

“Feelings are how we attempt to represent those emotions in words or art. That clarity helps”

What type of mood am I in right now?

What are the reasons for my current mood?

4th step. Express your feelings and needs

Think of a difficult situation you have faced; perhaps you have not felt comfortable in the way you have expressed yourself or felt hurt by what others have said. You think you could have approached it differently, perhaps by expressing your needs and naming your emotions accurately.

At this point, you have taken your time to breathe and let your body just feel; you have mastered observing your internal dialogue consciously and have written down all the words that could describe how you are feeling. Now go back to that list.

PRACTICE differentiates within your emotional vocabulary, which expresses thoughts, evaluations, and interpretations from basic emotions.

Following the below exercise will help you to understand your needs better,

• Write down your emotions/feelings.

• Is this my interpretation of what others have done to me?

If this indeed is an interpretation, for example, I feel ignored. In which specific situation do you “feel ignored”?

Rephrase it:

When this                           happened, or when other person said this                             I felt                              because I need or needed                          

• Which of my needs were not met?
• What might be the other person’s needs and feelings? How can I know?
• What would I like to see happen next?
• In what situations do I respond differently than I would like?
• What can I do next time?

BONUS: Explore the true origin of your feelings

My awareness perspective, coaching competencies, self-knowledge, and the way that I relate to others evolved since I started learning and applying the insights from identifying and labeling my emotions, feelings, and needs. We are not used to expressing our feelings, it is still a taboo topic in some conservative organizations, but it is what makes us evolve as human beings and leaders, it feels good and help us to develop meaningful relationships, it is our essence and nature to channel the compassion that makes us special, is the peak of the good we have, is the legacy that we can pass to others, to our own, to those we love.