What causes an emotional overreaction? It's generally prompted by the speaker himself or by something he or she says. For instance, going to an elegant party dressed like a bum might influence the hosts negatively. On the other hand, wearing a high-powered, Wall Street-like suit might put a rural businessperson on the defensive against a supposedly not-to-be-trusted city slicker.
Severe emotional overreaction can also be caused by loaded topics, such as ethnic, racial, religious, or political references. Differences in values, beliefs, attitudes, education, speed of delivery, image, and a host of other factors can cause a disruption in communication.
So, as listeners, we tend to tune out when we see or hear something we don't like. As a result, we often miss the true substance of what's being said.
When your emotional reaction begins, you'll have an almost irresistible tendency to interrupt, to butt in, and to argue. You may feel your pulse speed up, your breathing become more rapid, or your face become flushed. You may lose your train of thought. Once you recognize this negative emotional reaction, you can redirect it with the following techniques:
First, pause to delay your response or reaction. It's the tried-and-true approach of counting to ten or taking in some long, deep breaths. These can really work to calm you down.
A second calming technique: Think about what you have in common with the speaker rather than focusing on your differences. Maybe you don't disagree with the person's motivations — such as raising more money for the school. You just don't agree with her solutions.
And third, imagine yourself calm and relaxed. Think of a time in your past when you were laid back, on top of the world, and feeling incredibly great. Visualize that experience as vividly as you can. When you exercise emotional control, you'll find that active listening is no longer a struggle.