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Managing Emotions in Discussions

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Dr. Marc Jeffers was teaching a section of the Diversity and Inclusion class which was a required orientation course at his college. The course had a secondary role: teaching students how to be productive contributors to collaborative discussions.

On his first day, Jeffers reviewed the syllabus and then gave the students a scenario to discuss. The case involved how the campus could be more accommodating to transgender students, especially since the teen years are when many transgender students were transitioning.

As expected, the topic raised a lot of emotions and in some cases angry back and forth comments. Rather than being upset, Jeffers had a smile on his face.

With ten minutes to go, Jeffers called a time-out. “One of the things I want you to learn in this class is how to manage your emotions in a discussion. It’s fine to show your passion about a topic, but passion should not be reduced to anger. You need to learn to show your passion in a way that helps others understand it—but without targeting others with anger you may feel. Likewise, you need to learn how to value and respect that others have different emotions. They have their own passionate point of view.

“Next class, we are going to do an activity that will help each of you identify what things you are really emotional about. I’m going to ask you to share your emotional inventory with each other. Then in the discussion, I’m going to ask you to manage your own emotions and respect the emotions of others. You’ve all heard that college is about critical thinking, but it is also about critical feeling.”

“If you don’t think that critical feeling is important, just think about the insurrectionists that attacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Or think about the fact that shootings by strangers represent only a small fraction of the gun deaths in America. Most gun deaths result from killings of people who know each other. And did you know that 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner? Of course, these are extreme cases. But before next class, try to count the number of times you got into a dispute because you couldn’t manage your emotions—or because someone else couldn’t.”

“That’s all for today, but I have to warn you that one of my strong emotional reactions is when someone is late to class.”

* * *

If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.” –Daniel Goleman (psychologist and author)


This post is part of our “Think About” education series. These posts are based on composites of real-world experiences, with some details changed for the sake of anonymity. New posts appear on Wednesdays.