Attempting to communicate with someone who is emotional is challenging and sometimes impossible. Everyone has listening filters that filter communications according to their beliefs and worldview. Given enough time and the right finesse, it’s possible to break through these barriers. However, when a person is emotionally upset, their filters act like an impenetrable castle wall that not even logic can pass through.

Strong emotions have a tendency to overpower the ability to process logic and reason. No matter how much you want to help someone, the ability to communicate with emotional people hinges on your ability to first guide them toward a more calm state of being. Creating this kind of environment contributes to a person’s mental health and makes them more open to receiving your communication.

Penetrating the wall of emotion with powerful listening skills

The one skill that can penetrate the walls of an emotional person is listening. Not the kind of listening you do at the dinner table when you ask someone how their day went and you hear the words but aren’t present. You’re just waiting for them to finish so you can share how your day went. That kind of listening is really just “waiting to talk.”

Waiting to talk is what people do when they’re trying to prove their point in an argument. They wait until the other person is done speaking and interject their own thoughts. The result is two people talking at each other, rather than with each other.

Powerful listening is letting go of your own agenda and getting the other person’s communication in full. This type of listening can be broken down into three components: getting someone’s communication, getting in their world, and validating their experience without making them wrong. All three are necessary for effectively communicating with an emotional person.

Component 1: Getting their communication

Psychologist Edward Dreyfus says, “People who listen pay attention to both the content of what is being said and to the emotional tone being communicated. They want to understand both. Their focus is entirely on wanting to fully comprehend the person with whom they are talking.”

Fully comprehending the other person requires setting aside your own opinions and judgments about what they’re communicating and listening to what they’re sharing.

Component 2: Getting in their world

Getting in the other person’s world goes hand in hand with getting their communication. In order to get someone’s communication, you have to get it from within their world. You may not agree with what they’re expressing, and if you try to get it from within your own experience, you’re going to qualify it through all the reasons you believe them to be wrong. Then, you’ll never get their communication.

Put yourself in their shoes and see things from their point of view. Get in their world and out of your own and you’ll be able to get their communication.

Component 3: Validating their experience without making them wrong

Validating someone’s experience doesn’t mean applauding their actions or supporting wrongdoing. It means validating what they’re experiencing emotionally. When someone’s emotional, they’re also defensive. Regardless of what they’ve done, letting someone know you understand why they’re experiencing fear, sadness, or anger will bring down their defenses.

Examples of emotionally charged situations

  • A personal crisis. When someone’s going through a crisis in their life, their actions are going to be governed by the impulse of their emotions.

  • Drug addiction. Anytime you’re communicating with someone who is experiencing addiction to drugs or alcohol, emotions will be flying high. If you’re attempting an intervention, you’ll need to neutralize those emotions before your concerns will even be heard.

    Intervention experts agree that certain phrases can be used to create a safe and calm environment for the person you’re trying to help. For instance, the following phrases are helpful:

    “I love you.”
    “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me.”
    “I’m worried about your children.”
    “I’m here for you.”
    “This isn’t your fault; it’s a disease.”
    “Addiction treatment is effective.”

    A person battling addiction won’t see their resistance to your suggestion for getting treatment as unreasonable. You’ve got to validate the crisis they’re experiencing without making them wrong. Yes, they chose to create their addiction – but blaming and shaming them will further alienate them from you.

  • The person has committed a crime. It’s difficult to imagine someone you love committing a crime, but it happens. When you’re faced with this situation, as with any crisis, emotions will be flying high. The person might be scared or angry, and both of those emotions can cause knee-jerk reactions to everything you say, even when it’s helpful.

Communicating with emotional people is easy when you understand how to use listening to bring down their defenses. When you practice this, you might discover yourself to be the first person to truly listen to that person.