The other night I had a call from my friend Jake (Jake Sussman, http://www.superpowerconsulting.com) asking me to participate in his Facebook live that evening. He wanted to talk about effective communication under hard circumstances, and felt I’d be a good guest with whom to discuss the topic.
During the course of our conversation I brought up my ability to disassociate my emotions from my experience.
Yes, disassociate myself from my emotions.
Naturally the question came up of how do I manage to do that, and then someone else asked me if I could teach a course. My response was that first, it’s probably through a lifetime of practice that I’ve learned to do it and b) I’d have to put a lot of thought into how to teach others; but the question got me thinking, how did I learn how to do that exactly?
Fun fact, in my early 20’s I developed rosacea (the Irish in me) so every emotion I have colors my skin bright red. It took much of my career to not have every thought I have cross my face, but in learning to mask my emotions, I learned to harness them, meaning, I show only those emotions I WANT people to see.
There was a movie line that has stuck with me over the years. It’s from Glen Close in the movie Dangerous Liaisons. There is a scene where she discusses how as a young woman she would stab the back of her hand while hiding it under a table with a fork over and over past the point of bleeding to teach herself to keep smiling and to never show weakness. While I have never sunk to that extreme, it did resonate with me that because of my rosacea I needed to learn the same control. The only emotion I’ve never learned to mask is anger at myself when someone whose opinion I value is disappointed in me.
I think controlling the flow of your thoughts and emotions from travelling across your face when you do NOT have rosacea is easier than it was for me, but it took understanding my skin, good dermatologists and a lot of work on my part to reach that point.
But despite my traitorous skin condition, for most of my life people have just flat out baffled me. I didn’t understand their motivations, trusted too easily, thought everyone was genuine and truly wanted to be my friend and was always deeply hurt when that wasn’t the case. Coupled with a strong willed family and less than desirable relationships with certain people, I was just perplexed about people in every way.
I took a ten year personal journey to understand an overtly difficult relationship in my life and to try to find some modicum of peace with it, that helped me the most. Over those ten years I also completed grad school, started working in oil and gas, had a child, started working specifically in contracts and negotiations, had some good friends who taught me skills that enhanced my abilities, figured a lot of things out of my own (about life, myself as a person, woman, wife, mother, about professionalism, etc.), and realized a decade later that I had become a student of the human condition, and in that study, had learned to read people really well.
Now, I have to point out, I need you in front of me to read you. I struggle with this skill over long distances to the degree that I had to figure out that I can’t pick up on the physical queues that enable me to read a person. Given the current COVID-19 environment, it’s something I’m working on doing as I participate in Zoom meetings.
Now to clarify a few points.
I learned to read people by constantly analyzing their motives. This first began with family members, then I learned to do it with other people. In regarding family, I needed to understand their drivers, the reasoning behind their words and actions in order to manage myself within their sphere of reach. This was an necessity of survival for me.
As I learned to read people I was able to broaden the experience to my professional life. In work I have been physically assaulted, screamed at, threatened, sexually harassed, verbally and mentally abused, manipulated, lied to, and thrown to the wolves. I’ve seen the underside of the bus I’ve been pitched under so many times I can build the axle in my sleep. I’ve had great jobs and horrible jobs, great bosses and horrible bosses (it was a direct manager who physically assaulted me); so I can easily say that learning to read people became a necessity of survival for me in the work place as well.
In the negotiation arena, I’ve sat across from enormous wealth, power and influence, been sexually harassed, creeped out, screamed at, and sat across from bullies and abusers.
As I stretched into my abilities and became comfortable with what I do for a living, those things didn’t matter anymore. I’ve thrown people out of my office buildings and watched them skip like stones down the stairs. I’ve laughed at the bully. I’ve shown the abusers they can’t abuse me.
But, somewhere in there my child was diagnosed with dyslexia, and I entered the school arena asking for help.
My first encounters were doe-eyed innocent on my part and I ate the pile of horse dung they served me with a knife and fork, but it never sat well, and because I don’t trust easily, I started asking questions and realized I was being played. I still feel glee when I think of that moment of realization.
In the experiences that have made me, I have learned to take pleasure in being underestimated. Truly. I even bank on it. I want to be underestimated. The more my opponents assume I’m an idiot, the more willingly they play into any trap I lay. Ego is the greatest weapon, and what I mean by that is using someone’s own ego against them. In this realm of parents v education, I’m your huckleberry.
But, having lost my cool in a meeting very early on, and realizing the depth of the failing of education to actually educate, I realized I was playing a game I hadn’t played yet, and if I was going to win, I needed to be…more.
I can go in arms flailing, screaming, cursing, crying, but am I going to walk away with a single thing my child needs? No.
I can be condescending, cruel, openly manipulative, hyper aggressive, etc., but again, am I going to walk away with what my child needs? Maybe a little, but not much.
What I understand about negotiation is that you will never win unless you can connect, and I will not connect while my emotions are engaged. I need to turn my emotions off so I can think clearly and quickly. I need to be the observer I have trained myself to be my whole life, to pick up on what isn’t being sad, to read the power play, to know who I’m really dealing with. My lack of emotion, my choice to respond and not react, my intentional pauses are intimidating, and, I want the people I’m dealing with to be intimidated.
I knew an advocate once who wrote a piece on the power of the parent crying in the 504 / IEP meeting. She felt it was the greatest thing a parent could do. I never once agreed. Maybe it’s the negotiator in me, but I see tears as weakness. If you show emotion then you can be manipulated. If you show emotion then your heart is on, not your brain. If you are the VERY RARE individual who can be both emotional and logical at the same time, then more power to you, but I’ve never met anyone who can be both at the same time.
Emotion leads to defensiveness, fear, anger and all of those lead to not winning what your child needs in a 504 / IEP meeting. You show emotion, the other side wins. Plain and simple.
Advocating for our children is hard. Can I teach someone how to negotiate? Yes, I can, but what I cannot teach is how to read other people, what I cannot teach is control. I can give you the tools, but to truly read requires control of yourself, and knowledge of who you are as a person. That’s what I mean when I say control.
This control is called Emotional Intelligence. There are tons of books on it, but I don’t recommend any of them. You can watch videos, read articles, do tons of work, but emotional intelligence is gained through self discovery, and that’s not an easy journey. I also do not think that Emotional Intelligence can be taught to everyone, you are either capable of it, or you are not. Those who are not can maybe fake it, but never master it.
I know myself. I know my triggers. I have to analyze the upcoming situation for DAYS before hand to work through every single possible angle and it’s only then that I can divorce myself from my feelings. Rarely am I blindsided, but I also expect to be because in dealing with other people there is always a degree of unknown. Analyzing the permutations of moves and counter-moves is my greatest tool. Most people will behave in the manner in which I have analyzed they will, but, when blindsided I table if I cannot instantly recover, but it is the analyzing that enables me to manage my emotions, without it, for me at least, there’s no way through this hell.
So maybe I shouldn’t call it disassociation, but analytical preparation. Whatever you wish to call it, it works for me.