As many of you know, I have a 7-year-old daughter, Lexi, and a 5-year-old son, Hunter. Both are the stereotypical children of that age and gender. Lexi loves pink, she plays with dolls, and she is generally quite a compassionate little girl. Hunter wakes up in the morning ready to jump, run, pull, push, and chase his toy cars all over the house. He seems to have a hard time grasping the concept of his sister being two years older than him. He feels they should be “equal” and gets frustrated when he can’t do the things she can (such as reading), though he is stronger than her, and seems more fearless than Lexi when it comes to adventurous activities.
They are both generally good kids, but Hunter has his moments. A few months ago, he got very angry at his sister, started yelling at her, and he was visibly upset. He started to throw things at her about the time I walked into the scene. I had several choices: I could spank him, I could yell at him, or I could put him in time out. I noticed that his body language was very aggressive and angry. I knew that whatever logical and rational argument I threw at him would fall on deaf ears… after all, his emotional temperature was high, meaning that, physiologically, his cognitive functions (the limited kind of a 5-year-old) were significantly disabled.
I had to “dilute” the hormones in him quickly, so I did the first thing that came to my mind. I started dancing, put music on, and danced even goofier. His first reaction was a very confused look on his face. I kept going. After about thirty seconds, the confused look turned into a smile, and after another minute or so, he came over and started dancing with me. After a few more minutes, I picked him up and talked to him about the incident with his sister… and he immediately said he was sorry. He ran off and started playing with his sister as though nothing had happened.
I spoke at several events last week and shared this story when talking about the power of emotions as it relates to conflict. In a contentious situation, or in an emotional charged argument, logic rarely works without first having to dilute the impact of the heavily concentrated hormones in the body. I see people at work constantly using very rational and logical arguments with someone whose emotional temperature is high and upon realizing that this is not working, continue with even more logical and rational thoughts.
As I did with my son, managers and leaders should consider suspending logic, no matter how “right” it might be to do so, and consider using their empathy skills to diagnose the other party’s emotional temperature, and figure out a way to dilute the other person’s emotional hijack. These are skills every parent and working adult can learn, and must learn as both will likely use them several times each day.