Working With Emotional Charge

June 21, 2012 5 Comments
Podcamp NH 2009

|Photo by Roger H. Goun||

The following is a re-post from Dan Rockwell’s blog, Leadership Freak.  It is timely in that the past few weeks I have worked with a number of clients where questions about how to deal with difficult people and emotions have been on the top of people’s minds.  One of my first responses to these questions is to say that we should make sure not to leap to immediately making it all about the people.  As we like to say at IISC, often people problems are process problems in disguise.  And there is no denying that emotions can get high at times and that there are those people who seem to want to bring spice to what might seem to be the most bland of situations.  So what do you do?  Over to Dan . . .


Emotionally charged people may want you to fix things. If you’re able to change frustrating processes or procedures, do it. But, fixing may reinforce negative behaviors.

The person who gets what they want
after throwing a fit learns to throw more fits.

Enable people to address their own concerns. Avoid solving “for.”

Defusing strong emotions:

A Leadership Freak reader asked, “How can I defuse emotions?”

  1. Defusing seems arrogant, even though I suggested it yesterday.
  2. Validate and affirm emotion seems better than defuse.
  3. Don’t ignore or belittle emotions. Do yourself and others a favor, stop pretending everything’s okay when in reality it isn’t.
  4. Explore values. Anger indicates we care deeply about something, for example.
  5. Ask, “What do you want?” Emotionally charged people frequently blame others and forget what they want.
  6. Ask, “What can you do to get what you want?”
  7. When possible, postpone; allow time for feelings to cool.
  8. Avoid threatening postures, step back a few inches. “In your face” doesn’t work.
  9. Invite them to sit with you. Sit to the side rather than front on.
  10. Create open space between; remove barriers.
  11. Lower your voice.
  12. Soften your tone.
  13. Talk while walking slowly.
  14. Follow up, if you postponed. Some emotions – if not addressed – grow destructive with time, bitterness for example.
  15. Step back and explore the big picture. It’s not about sides.
  16. Avoid being pressured to make decisions.


It takes at least fifteen minutes, usually more, for the impact of adrenaline to subside.

Adrenaline raises your heart rate, fuels aggression and reddens your face. Additionally, your voice gets louder and your hands get shaky. It’s all normal but not always helpful. I suggest you get away until your biology settles down. Go for a slow walk.

How do you succeed in emotionally charged situations?


  • Linda says:

    Great post Curtis. A couple of thoughts I would add are that there are cultural difference in ability and comfort with expressing emotions. So an expression that for some from some cultures may feel like a real problem (or scary, etc.) may feel totally normal and like constructive expression of difference/disagreement to others. The biggest thing I would add to his list is to BREATHE, do everything possible to stay centered and try to really listen. Conflict is where creative potential often lies – to try to tamp it down can mean not getting to the potential for change.

  • Curtis says:

    Great point, Linda, about the different cultural expressions and perceptions around emotion. One person’s tirade is another person’s way of just making a point; silence or relative lack of emotional expression does not necessarily mean disengagement. And I am taking your invitation to breathe right now :).

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    I like the direction this is heading. And, I’d also add a few more things to consider.

    A long time ago, I learned about “masking emotions” from Visions. The idea is that every emotion signals an underlying concern. Fear signals an awareness of or concern about safety; anger <– violation
    sadness <– grief/loss
    shame <– regret or remorse
    joy <– satisfaction/enjoyment

    So it's sometimes useful to try to get at the underlying concern by asking questions or inviting the person to tell more of their story about the situation.

    Also, in this culture, it's not that uncommon for emotions to be masked; that is, for the underlying concern to be expressed by a different emotion than suggested above. For example, feeling shame (or a lower level form of embarrassment) or grief and expressing anger instead of shame or sadness. Anger often becomes the all purpose emotional expression.

  • DeeDee2011 says:

    A lot of husbands could use this article.

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