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Emotional Volume: Is the loudest Emotion the important one?

Emotional Volume: Is the loudest Emotion the important one?

Author: Marlene Johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand that people can feel multiple emotions at the same time and that the intensity of an emotional display is not the same as the intensity of an emotion

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Emotional Volume: Is the Loudest Emotion the Important One?

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Have you ever been not quite sure what you're feeling, or maybe it feels like your emotions keep changing on you, or you feel like you've got several emotions roiling inside you at the same time and their intensity keeps changing? Well, if you've ever felt this way, welcome to the human race. Emotions are unpredictable, and they can feel like they're eluding us from time to time so we don't even know what we're feeling.

But they are key to getting at the real needs that parties bring into conflict. I'm Marlene, and I'd like to look at emotions with you today, particularly something called emotional volume. So what is emotional volume? What do I mean by that term? Well, emotional volume is the intensity with which an emotion is expressed.

Now, it's true that we all display emotions differently, and we don't all express even things like anger or sadness which are quite intense emotions the same way. When some people are sad or grieving, they may cry and become very emotional. Other people may retreat and just become silent. It doesn't mean they're feeling the sadness any less. It's just that's how they're displaying it by retreating.

Anger is the same way. Some people when they're angry can become volatile and become perhaps very blaming in the way they express their anger. Others may turn the anger inward and become depressed, maybe a little more passive-aggressive in the way they express what they're feeling. Now, those are extremes.

But even in the middle I think we can see that people express emotions differently. They display it differently, whether they be positive emotions or negative emotions. You may have a friend return from a vacation, and they're just elated, and you know they're elated because they are very effusive in the way they talk about the wonderful time they had.

Another friend may return from a vacation and have just as good a time, but they're more contained in the way they express their feelings. They're just different ways of expression. So we do express things differently, and we're capable of experiencing multiple emotions at the same time. Think about the last time that you made a major decision, a big decision in your life, perhaps buying a home.

You probably felt very excited about buying this home, and then in the next moment you felt scared. Now, those seem like contradictory emotions, but I like to think that fear and excitement are like flip sides of the same coin. It's energy, and at one moment it's excitement, and then the next moment it's nerves. Back and forth, back and forth.

I'm so excited about this home. I can't believe what I did. Can I afford to pay for it? So that's just two emotions, and these two emotions are contradictory. At other times you may feel that we've got a series of emotions, and it's almost like a journey, like a thread. We might start with anger and underneath that there's sadness, and then there's hurt, and then there's loneliness or fear.

And as we follow and experience all of those emotions, perhaps it's after the death of a loved one, we realize that our emotions are fluid and they change. And the emotion that we might be expressing with the most volume in whatever way we express it might not be at the heart of what we're really feeling. Now, it's key in a conflict resolution process to recognize that.

The emotion that a party expresses with the most volume, the most intensity may not necessarily be the emotion that is really the most intense for that person. So as a conflict intervenor, it is your role to help the person explore what they're feeling, name it, and express it. Now, that may mean in the beginning acknowledging of course the emotion that's being displayed with the most intensity.

It could be anger. It could be fear. It could be grief, acknowledging that, perhaps asking questions to explore that with the person. And as you do that, you may many times find that behind that presenting emotion, the emotion with the most volume, these other emotions exist. For example, you may have someone, perhaps you have a family dispute over what to do with heirlooms.

There's been a death in the family, and they're dividing up things, and there's anger over how this is being handled and who's getting what, and that's the presenting issue. But as you begin to talk to these family members, there are other issues that come through. And underneath the anger, there's hurt. There are hurt feelings that have come from some of the interactions.

There may be some embarrassment on the part of some, and there may be sadness. Or maybe there's some fears here. So any of those emotions may be underneath the anger, and any one of them may be the emotion that's most intense for the individual, the one that needs the most attention.

So as a conflict intervenor, you are there to acknowledge, be present, and help parties explore what it is they're feeling knowing that the emotion in the room with the most volume may not necessarily be the emotion with the most intensity for the person who's experiencing the emotion. So, I've enjoyed being part of this tutorial, and I look forward to next time.

  • Emotional Volume

    The intensity with which an emotion is expressed.