Emotions are central to the survival of the human species. Fear, for example, is an important emotional signal that tells us that danger is present, and whether to protect ourselves by fighting or running for our lives. When we enjoy (to be in joy) something — debating an issue, building a bridge, making a cake, figuring out math problems, painting a picture, working on a car, writing an essay, singing a song – that joyful emotion, too, is an important signal that may ultimately lead to a lifelong career, or a passionate avocation or important discovery.
Our emotions are particularly informative, yet much more subtle when we are interacting with others either in a personal or professional capacity. For example, if someone teases us, “You’re so silly sometimes!,” our sensitive emotional detectors can usually determine whether this is simply a playful declaration or a demeaning accusation.
However, we may often find that we have difficulty naming our emotional response which is extremely important in deciding whether this teasing person is malicious or being playfully affectionate. Being able to accurately name and describe your internal response is critical to raising your emotional intelligence and informing your assessment of the interaction, and subsequently your choice of verbal or other action.
For example, if the other person in our “teasing” example has signaled a friendly approach and you can identify that your emotional response is either amused, delighted, glad, or charmed (or all of those feelings at once) your verbal response might be, “I know! I love being silly sometimes, and it’s fun being silly with you!” On the other hand, if your internal signals register a sarcastic tone and you feel demeaned, put down, offended or insulted (or, again, all of the above) then your verbal response might be, “That sounds like an insult. Is there a problem?”