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Are You a Rational or Emotional Communicator? Find Out Why It Matters

Communication is foundational to being an effective leader. Understand the steps to identify and develop an exceptional communication style.

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“The person who controls a conversation is not the one talking, it’s the person asking all the questions.” 

I was recently reminded of this adage, which is packed with wisdom. It’s true. We’re quick to guide a conversation via what we think we need to say, instead of actively listening to and questioning the person we’re speaking with. Often, we’re quick to want to be understood rather than first seeking to understand the other person. 

Additionally, we tend to engage one of two ways: rationally or emotionally. Different situations call for different methods of communication. The challenge, however, is when one of these reactions far outweighs the other. 

So I ask: Are you communicating rationally or emotionally?

Related: How to Disagree the Right Way

Rational vs. emotional communication

Can you guess which one humans tend to do more of? If you chose emotional, you’re correct. Our DNA is rooted in emotion, and we react emotionally to things around us.

Say you’re in the car and get cut off. What do you do? Maybe you roll your eyes, maybe you throw up the bird, maybe you say something not-so-friendly. See: emotion. 

Emotional responses aren’t always bad, either. Pride, happiness, excitement...imagine your child getting accepted to college, and instead of reacting with glee, your only response is “Good. This will enhance your chances of getting a desirable form of employment.”

Rational, but strange. That’s a situation that calls for an emotional response. 

We aren’t really taught how to channel our rational side when reacting to something. We’re quick to respond to situations instead of stepping back, taking a deep breath and going through the motions of deciding how to respond. The exceptional communicator recognizes the role that both logic and emotion play in conversations.  

We also can’t control how others respond. So even if we’ve found the perfect balance between logic and emotion when communicating with others, it’s an entirely different ball game each time, because no two people are identical and think exactly alike.

Related: 9 Best Practices to Improve Your Communication Skills and Become a More Effective Leader

How to bring balance to workplace conversations

When I think about stuff like this, I’m inclined to ponder how it fits into my business. Even though we can’t totally control how people communicate, we can teach each other how to understand the difference between types of communication.

1. Acknowledge a lack of self-awareness

I’m not sure people actually know there’s a difference in how we respond to things. I’ll admit — up until a couple of years ago, I didn’t myself. Our subconscious doesn’t seem to care that much about retaining this info. Awareness is the first step to being a successful communicator.

Keep this in mind when communicating with coworkers. Acknowledge a lack of awareness, then ask yourself what you can do to help others recognize when they’re responding rationally to something and when they’re responding emotionally.

Related: 6 Strategies for Being a Better, Active Listener

2. Acknowledge the emotion

Active listening skills are critical in encouraging harmonious communication. Start by asking probing questions to ensure you genuinely understand the issue. Be objective as you listen to the answers.

It’s important to acknowledge the other person’s emotions at the beginning of the conversation. Something like, “I can understand how this situation must be so frustrating to you” can help the other person feel heard and diffuse the emotional tension. It offers a unified start to finding a solution.  

3. Reframe the conversation

Another way to have this conversation is through the lens of positivity vs. negativity. The latter is rooted in emotion. Embrace the day with a negative mindset, and you’ll start a chain reaction of negative energy, passed between you and anyone you communicate with.

Mindset and reactions share common ground. Choose a positive mindset, and you’ll be prone to positive reactions. Channel negativity and, well...you know the deal.

4. Identify the source of conflict (Hint: It’s not the other person)

Let’s face it: People often see people as the problem, and emotions escalate. Communication breaks down when people project the source of conflict on the other person. The reality is that the conflict is what stands between two people. By focusing on the issue rather than the person, you’re able to find common ground. Once both people are on the same side seeking a solution, then you’ve moved to a rational way of solving the conflict. Everyone wins!

5. Include in your workplace training

Have routine workplace training? Good. Add something like this to your curriculum. If you don’t have someone on your team responsible for this, then hire a professional to come in and give a lecture. It’s important to teach communication skills using practical real-world examples.

Make sure to routinely check yourself, too. Are you modeling effective communication?

Being able to distinguish between rational and emotional communication is a leadership superpower. Heck, it’s a human being superpower. Find the balance between the two — that right-time-right-place paradigm — and help others do the same. 

No one likes conflict. Everyone wants to feel understood. Start by assessing your own communication style, then foster a culture of rational communication with your team. Who wouldn’t want to lead a company filled with exceptional communicators? 

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