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‘A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally’   Oscar Wilde

We are emotional beings with feelings, and together with our thoughts (which are intricately linked to our emotions and feelings) is what make us us. But our own feelings don’t exist in isolation. We are after all social beings and exist in groups, communities, nations, continents and the world.

Our feelings and behaviour affect other people’s feelings and behaviour and other people’s affect us – in a positive or negative way. And the way we deal with the feelings of others can have a positive or negative impact on them or us.

You only have to look at the news to recognise that as a human race we’re not always very good at dealing with the feelings of others. We see examples of religious intolerance, and social and political inequalities around the world and close to home. Our feelings do not exist in isolation and we are part of a larger community (whether we want to be or not).

The more aware you become of your own feelings, the more you will find yourself able to tune in to the feelings of others. Exercising your own feeling muscle enables you to understand and empathise with others better.

Empathy is a key concept here. It’s the idea of experiencing something alongside someone – putting yourself in their shoes. It differs from sympathy, which is more about feeling sorry for someone.

Empathy is linked to the idea of emotional intelligence. This is the skill of managing our own emotions and being able to recognise and deal effectively with the emotions of others and handle our relationships with empathy.

Empathy is a skill, and one of the indicators for happiness, we talked about previously.

But how do we get it? It’s a social skill we learn and pick up as we’re growing up, but some people more so than others.

‘Humans aren’t as good as we should be in our capacity to empathise with feelings and thoughts of others, be they humans or other animals on Earth. So maybe part of our formal education should be training in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that were ‘reading, writing, arithmetic, empathy.’     Neil deGrasse Tyson

You might say emotional intelligence and empathy can help us become better, more effective and successful people, and better for the communities in which we operate.

Paying attention to the feeling of others is a good place to start.

Do you think about the feelings of others?

How often do you ask yourself in a particular situation, where you are talking with a friend, colleague, or family member:

“How does anyone else feel right now?”

And perhaps a more interesting question is:

“How might the way they are feeling be affecting the way they are behaving?”

Last week we looked at setting feeling goals and suggested ways to do it, including keeping a diary of your feelings and how you behave when having these feelings.

This increased awareness of your own feelings and associated behaviours gives enables more insights into the behaviour of other people.

An important distinction

Notably the distinction between the person and their behaviour and the role feelings plays in the the relationship between the two. It’s helpful when dealing with people’s feelings, to separate the person – and their inner feelings – from the person’s behaviour – which is how they are acting or what they have said.

As human beings we have a tendency to conflate, or combine the person and their behaviour into one.

If a person is behaving angrily, on some level (whether we would say it consciously or not) they are an angry person. We associate the person with their behaviour.

Now as we know from ourselves, this is not the case. You might have just had a very distressing meeting with someone which left you feeling very angry, from which you bounce straight into another conversation where you’re perceived as aggressive, defensive or angry. If you assume the person and their behaviour are one and the same thing, you might see them as behaving unreasonably towards you and react accordingly.

But if, when someone is behaving very angrily, you can practise separating their behaviour from the person inside, you can respond to how they are behaving rather than reacting to them as a person.

This is of course easier said than done! There’s a temptation, as we discussed in ‘dealing with negative thoughts’, that we ‘mind read’ what we think the person is feeling from their behaviour.

Here’s a little exercise you can do:

Over the next couple of days keep a note of how other people demonstrate their feelings.

  1. What did they say?
  2. How do you think they were feeling?
  3. What evidence or hunch do you have for this?

Dealing with unfamiliar feelings

It’s harder to deal with other people’s feelings when they’re feelings we ourselves are less familiar with. This in turn affects how you respond to them.

But how do you determine which feelings you’re less familiar with? You draw up a feelings map.

The feelings map

Draw up a list of your feelings under three categories: physical, emotional and state of mind:

  1. Physical feelings: e.g. cold, tired, agitated.
  2. Emotional feelings: e.g. angry, sad, happy, frightened.
  3. States of mind: e.g. guilty, inspired, fulfilled, ashamed, creative.

Then plot these onto your feelings map.

Click link to download your ‘Feelings Map

Now map your physical, emotional and state of mind feelings onto that feelings map. So if you feel you ‘never’ express the emotion of sadness, then under the ’emotional feelings’ segment of your feelings map, write ‘sadness’ in your ‘never’ concentric circle.

A Feelings Map

This gives you a map of your feelings, divided into physical feelings, emotions and states of mind and how often you feel them.

Now you’re able to look at your feelings map and see at a glance which feelings you feel least often and armed with that knowledge ask yourself:

“Which feelings do I feel least often and how do I tend to respond when others are expressing those same feelings?”

Love and anger

For example you might find you don’t express feelings of love very often and therefore tend to ignore that emotion not only in yourself but also when others are expressing that emotion. Now you’ve recognised those feelings of how you deal with love within yourself, you can develop a strategy for dealing with it in other people. So you might decide your strategy will be to say something very positive about that feeling and to explore with the other person how they are feeling.

“Wow, that’s wonderful. Tell me more about it?” In effect you are exploring the feeling in others.

Where as before you were judging them by your own standards of how you would behave, you are now sort of stepping into their shoes.

If you find anger difficult to tune in to and express yourself, your strategy for dealing with angry behaviour in others could be to focus on separating their behaviour (anger) from who they are (the person) and practice assertively standing your own ground.

It’s worth saying that none of this is an excuse for bad behaviour on anyone’s part and we’re certainly not suggesting you should put up with unacceptable behaviour or when people are riding roughshod over your feelings.

Group feelings

We’ve talked about dealing with the feelings of others on a one to one basis. What about group feelings? Human beings are after all group or pack animals. We’re social beings and are affected and influenced by those around us – particularly in group settings.

It’s easy to get caught up in the wave of what’s going on, unless we’re clear about what we feel. You only need to go to a football match or pop concert, to see this in action – generally in an enjoyable way where we take pleasure in the camaraderie of our fellow supporters or fans. But of course this same process can also be used towards less innocent ends, like mass rallies – where people can be influenced towards a more dangerous end.

Group feelings are also present in the smallest groups, in our own home within our own families or in the offices and places where we work, and influence how we feel and act as individuals.

It can be helpful to think about the way group feelings can affect you and ask yourself:

  1. In what situations, and how, are you influenced by group feelings?
  2. And what do you want to change about this, if anything?

By paying attention to the feelings of others and by being aware of how we deal with our own feelings we can ‘deal with feelings’ more successfully.

The Changeability Podcast Episode 69

Hear us talk about all of this, including how often we think we’re aware of other people’s feelings (we have different views on this) and whether we think animals have feelings (of course they do but are they really ours?) and much more in episode 69 of the Changeability Podcast.