Tag Archives: volume

Matching Emotion with Concern

While sitting in one of the most boring seminars of my life, I was surprised to learn something that has added years (maybe decades) to my marriage.  It’s the principle of matching emotion with concern.

You see, for much of my early marriage, I had it all wrong.  When my wife and I would get into arguments, there would be lots of emotion.  Lots of yelling.  Lots of slamming things.  I hated it.  My teenage, drug-using years were full of these types of conflicts with my mom, and I learned that matching emotion with emotion just gets you more emotion.  Each person tries to increase their volume to get up and over the other person, and when yelling stops working, some people resort to physical displays and violence to make their points.  If they start at a “Level 6 Anger” on a ten-point scale, they will soon be at Level 8, 9 or 10 as they try to outdo the other person.  This is called “Escalation.”



Matching emotion with emotion doesn’t work, so I learned over time to match emotion with lack of emotion.  Someone had to keep their head in an argument.  Emotional people say bizarre, exaggerated, unrealistic things.  Someone had to maintain logic and good sense.  That was the way to keep things safe, I reckoned.  For years, I tried this approach with my wife.  When she would get angry and emotional, I would take the “high road.”  Nothing she could say would bother me.  I stayed calm and rational during the entire argument.  But it didn’t work.

Emotion is about volume.  People use it because they want the other person(s) to recognize how important something is to them.  When I tried to match my wife’s emotion with my lack of emotion, she felt that I wasn’t hearing her…that I didn’t understand how crucial the issue was.  So in order to get her point across, she would increase her volume by getting even more emotional.  This is called “One-Sided Escalation.”

One-Sided Escalation

During one extended argument, I was proud of myself for keeping my cool during the entire ordeal, but I was tired and had lost hope of finding an easy end to our disagreement.  When my wife took a breath, I stepped in and said, “I’m tired and going to bed.  When you are ready to talk like adults, come and get me.”  Condescending, controlling, unfair.  Just because I was in control of my emotions didn’t mean I was above getting my shots in.

I headed off to bed and was in the early stages of sleep when I heard, “Thump! THump! THUmp! THUMp! THUMP!”  Suddenly, my wife, who had been stewing over my arrogant dismissal, came sprinting down the hallway to our room, leapt up on top of the bed and began to jump – up and down, up and down…narrowly missing my head with each landing.  This was a level of escalation I had never seen before.  In a panic, I remembered stories I had heard of wives who had been pushed too far and the things they had done to their husbands while they slept.  

Obviously, my calm, cool and collected approach was no better than matching emotions with emotion.  In fact, it was worse.  Unless they are willing to go to extreme lengths, emotional people are no match for logical people in an argument.  Emotional people say things they wouldn’t say during calmer circumstances.  It’s easy for logical people to identify exaggerations and discrepancies, and this often leaves the emotional person feeling frustrated and embarrassed.  A logical person can easily out-maneuver and even humiliate an emotional person (which tends to make emotional people even more emotional).  In short, matching logic with emotion isn’t a fair fight.

So, what’s the right answer?  It doesn’t work to match emotion with emotion, and it doesn’t work to match emotion with lack of emotion or logic.  Here’s what I learned in that boring seminar: You’ve got to match emotion with sincere concern.  It’s brilliant!  It’s simple!  But it’s not easy.  

When someone is emotional, the best way to respond is to show genuine concern.  If they are “Level 6 – Anger,” you’ve got to try to match it with a “Level 6 – Concern.”  It might sound like this:

My Wife: “I hate it that you are always coming home so late from work!  You’re never here for dinner!  I always have to take care of the kids all by myself, and I’m tired.  I never get anytime for myself!”

Me: “I’m very sorry, Sweetheart…I didn’t realize how difficult this has been for you.  I can tell you’re very upset.  Can we sit down and talk about it?”

Chances are, my response didn’t hit a “Level 6” for Concern.  Depending upon my tone and my body language (they have to match my words for my words to be believable), I may have only reached a Level 3 with this response.  But I shouldn’t give up.  This is a skill that takes patience and practice to learn.

My Wife: “Yes, this has been difficult for me!  And I’m not just upset….I’m exhausted!  You should try taking care of the kids for days on end without any help!  I need a break!”

Me: “Okay, I hear you.  This has been a lousy situation with my work, and it’s gone on longer than I thought it would.  You’re exhausted, and you need a break, and it doesn’t seem fair that you have to carry the full load at home.   Have you already thought of some solutions, or would you like to talk those out together?”

As I’m expressing concern, I’m using other tools to help my wife see that I understand.  I’m trying to reflect her emotions (i.e., “I can tell you’re upset.”), and I’m trying to summarize what I’m hearing, seeing and reading between the lines (i.e., “You’re exhausted, and you need a break, and it doesn’t seem fair that you have to carry the full load at home.”)  I’m asking clarifying statements (i.e., “Have you already thought of some solutions, or would you like to talk those out together?”)  

I have to be completely sincere at all times, or I’ll just make things worse.  But if I’m patient and keep trying, a wonderful thing happens.  When my wife feels like I have honestly heard and understood how important this issue is to her, she begins to let the steam out of her emotion.  It will typically take several attempts of matching emotion with concern at different levels, but if she believes me, she can lower the volume bit by bit.  There’s no need to continue to be emotional when the other person really understands what you are saying and how you are feeling.  Before too long, we will be able to have a rational discussion about the problem without the exaggeration and without the strong emotions.  This is called, “De-Escalation.”


At the foundation of using this method for dealing with conflict are two essential practices: patience and kindness.  It won’t work unless you care enough about the other person to set aside your own personal agenda.  In short, it’s an act of love.  

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)



Filed under agape love, communication, conflict, emotions, grace, Interpersonal, love, marriage, Relationships, unconditional love

Making a Mess

My youngest son decided to stand on the neighbor’s water line (PVC pipe) last night and broke it. Water sprayed everywhere, and we couldn’t get it to stop. Nor could we see well enough in the darkness to fix it or even assess what had broken.

I was furious, but my son’s reaction to my anger wasn’t very satisfying, so I increased the volume with some loud scolding. Still, he didn’t seem to be showing enough remorse, so I increased the volume again with a few growls and deep sighs of exasperation. They didn’t elicit the desired response, so I stomped off angrily and took a swing at an innocent towel hanging out to dry. That did the trick, and the tears began to flow.

After the adrenaline had worn off, I was embarrassed about my outburst. As I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized that my anger was less about my son’s irresponsibility (it could have happened to any of us – most of the plumbing where we live is barely taped together) and more about the inconvenience it caused me.

The broken water line had to be fixed – that meant a plumber after dark – that meant money, which we’ve been handing out like candy lately. I didn’t know who to contact in Thailand at that hour to come fix a busted pipe, and I wasn’t looking forward to interacting with our neighbor (who we never talk to) about something of theirs that we broke.

Probably my angry tirade did little to “teach my son a lesson” and much to make him fear his dad’s emotional instability when a mistake has been made. The next time he breaks something, he will know who NOT to tell. If I really wanted him to learn from his mistake, a calm discussion about respecting other peoples’ property would have been much more effective.

And for all I know, the event was God’s way of getting me to talk to my neighbor. He gave me ten months since we moved in, and I haven’t even ventured over to say, “Hello.” Maybe He took things into His own hands. To love my neighbor, I probably need to know him first. A broken water line gives us a reason to interact, and it puts me in the right frame of mind to be humble when we meet.

After I made my apologies to my son, we found that the situation wasn’t as bad as I originally thought. We were able to cut off the water. Then I wrote a note, and we stuck it to our neighbors’ door together (they weren’t home at the time). We had a short discussion about the importance of respecting other peoples’ property, and the lesson seemed to register.

This morning, our neighbor came out to inspect the water line while I was reading on the patio. We had a nice discussion, learned about some things we had in common and worked out an arrangement to fix the water line. I also learned that their family is considering renting our house after we leave. Since two of their children have grown and moved out, they need less space.

We talked about the house and the owner and agreed to allow for a walk-through later this week. Before that discussion, I was a little worried about how the transition would go with our landlord, but I feel better now knowing that he will probably have a renter as soon as we are gone.

In retrospect, my mess turned out to be much bigger than the one my son made, and it was harder to clean up. Glad my Dad isn’t accustomed to flying off the handle with me. His volume tends to be more subtly and skillfully applied.

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Filed under accountability, blame, christianity, Convenience, family, grace, Inconvenience, Interpersonal, leadership, mistakes, parenting, Relationships, Teaching

Search Engine Terms Used to Find My Blogs

I find it interesting each day to check the search engine terms people use to find my blog.  Some of them are really random, and I’m afraid that they are terribly disappointed when they get to my blog and find something spiritual.  (It reminds me of the time someone smashed out the windows in my car and stole my dry cleaning (size XXL) and three cases of sermon tapes.  Made me laugh despite the cost of the new windows.)

Assuming that these people left disappointed the first time, I’m going to post my responses to their searches just in case they come back.  I hope these are helpful.

  • Young male models boys, Africa male models, Adolescent male model, Thailand male model, Male models wanted, Pics of male model in kolkata – 76 hits searching for all types of male models, and only one that I’m qualified for….
  • Good built male model – I’m free in July.
  • “same same” thai t-shirt – Night Bazaar, Chiang Mai – any night
  • Wawee coffee gay – I swear, I thought it was straight (this is not the first time this has happened to me, but that’s a story for another post.)
  • A twisted tail a thousand eyes trapped foreverEPA! EPA!…Spider pig, Spider pig…
  • My son pretends to be sick – Try the old thermometer in the rear trick, and see if that helps.
  • obstacles marilyn monroe face – Nose is a little large
  • how do you build a rat wall for a garage – you want to keep them?
  • i want to stick my tube snake in your… – I’m flattered, but I’m very married (and I really thought Wawee was straight)
  • how do i make a scale model of kruger national monument – with mashed potatoes (like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters)
  • massage stories river kwai – pervert!
  • forced stripped video – Why do people think I would have this stuff?
  • how to get a video camera past metal detectors – Carry a machete to divert their attention.
  • how to remove curses on wife – Make a rule that you have to put a dollar in a jar each time you say one.
  • how can i protect my home from rats – get rid of all the food
  • mean names that aren’t swear words – Beatrice, Esmeralda, Gayle (for a man), Female, Gwennog, Beaufort, Blaze, Oleo, Bubba, Uterus, Prinze…
  • pick up women on walking street – Never carry more than one at a time.
  • why did god make birds – So that we could communicate with people who cut us off in traffic
  • why do we curseVolume
  • help my wife is a packrat – They say three moves are as good as a fire.
  • contents under pressure in checked luggage – Sounds interesting; tell me how it turns out.
  • rats im house – Impressive! Next they’ll have a Facebook account.
  • can the blood of jesus cover our property – I don’t think so, but I promise that none of your furniture is going to hell.
  • i kept fantasizing about my wife with other men – See below
  • share your wife – Maybe you should get with the guy who made the previous search.
  • why married men masturbate – Laziness
  • lower your expectations for men – Probably best
  • words to curse an enemy – “I forgive you.” “I’m sorry.” “How can I help you?” — “In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.” (Proverbs 25:22)

Y’all come on back now, y’hear!

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Filed under funny, humor, Just for fun


I swear sometimes. The major offenders (though usually not the hyphenated kind). I hate that I do it, because I always feel childish afterward. But I know why. Volume. Almost 100% of the time.

Let me explain. When I’m angry or frustrated or overwhelmed, I want people to know about it. I want their sympathy or their empathy or at least their acknowledgment. So, if I don’t think they are getting it, I’ll swear. It gets attention. It adds volume. But then I fell childish, because I know I’m throwing a grown-up tantrum.

I think many of us do the same thing but in different ways. Some people slam things to increase their volume. Some withhold love. Some withhold sex. Some use body language or gestures to increase their volume. Some use violence. Some use silence. Some increase their volume to increase their volume.

We increase our volume, because we don’t feel like the people around us are getting it. We don’t feel like they understand how we are feeling. We feel that they don’t know what we’re going through.

I learned something in a conflict management class years ago that speaks to this. When people are emotional about something, they want us to understand how frustrated or how angry or how sad or how lonely they are. Unfortunately, we often respond in the wrong way. The most common responses:

  • We’re not listening, because we are paying attention to something else or to ourselves.
  • We try to fix the problem while they are emotional.
  • We tell them why they shouldn’t be feeling what they are feeling.
  • We shut down in response to their emotional outburst or because we’ve been down this path so many times before that we no longer have patience for it.
  • We try to cheer them up with promises of a better tomorrow.
  • We get emotional ourselves – not with empathy – in reaction to their emotion.

None of these responses are helpful, and they are all almost guaranteed to get an increase in volume. They show to the other person that we’re not listening, or they minimize the validity of the emotion. This is incredibly frustrating for the person experiencing the emotions. What they want before anything else, before fixing their problem or before thinking logically, is to be heard.
And I mean to be heard at a deep level. Sure, you may have responded to the content of their message, but did you respond to the meaning behind it? You can’t hear the meaning unless you are listening at the deepest level – listening with your whole mind and your whole body – giving them your full attention.

To listen at the level of meaning requires that you hear what they don’t say. It comes through their tone of voice, their facial expressions, their posture, their body language, their inflection, their eye contact or lack of it… It’s an art and a skill, and sometimes it takes really knowing the person to get it right, but trying to listen for meaning is how you get to know them.

So, here’s what I learned in that course.

#1 Emotions before facts. Always. Emotional people don’t want to talk to Dr. Spock. They want to be understood. They may be making no sense whatsoever; they may be saying things that are dramatically exaggerated. Doesn’t matter. Respond to their emotions first. That earns you the right to talk facts with them.

When I used to respond to my wife’s anger with logic, it always got me into trouble. She would increase her volume, because she didn’t think she was being heard. I would respond with logic, she would increase her volume. And so it went until I gave up and went to bed. As a result, we have some legendary fight moments that we entertain our friends with at parties.

Of course, I was right in these arguments (occasionally), but that didn’t matter in the emotional moment. What mattered was that she wasn’t being heard and understood. Deal with emotions first, then facts.

#2 Match emotion to concern. Pretend that you can gauge a person’s emotions on a scale of one to ten. If a person is at a Level 8: Anger, your best response is a Level 8: Concern. You accomplish that by listening at the level of meaning and responding with a reflecting statement.

A reflecting statement is a mirror. It acts just like your bathroom mirror acts toward you in the morning (thank goodness). It doesn’t evaluate. It doesn’t judge. It reflects. It sounds like this:

  • “You’re frustrated that your boss keeps giving the best assignments to your peers.”
  • “It sounds like you’re feeling very lonely at your new school.”
  • “I can tell this is really upsetting you.”
  • “You’re feeling like giving up on your goal.”
  • “You don’t feel like anyone understands what you are going through.”

You don’t have to be 100% accurate in your reflection. If you’re not, they will tell you. Usually, they appreciate the effort. The lines of communication stay open, and you can try again with another reflecting statement. Eventually, you’ll hit your target.

What you do have to do is use the right tone of voice and body language. Use any of the statements above with a sarcastic or apathetic tone of voice, and you’ll send the person into orbit. You’ve got to show through your non-verbal communication that you are interested and that your verbal communication is sincere.

When you match emotion with concern, the person feels heard. If you match a Level 8: Anger with a Level 8: Concern, they will reduce the volume. You understand them. There’s no reason to be so loud anymore. They might not come down to Level 1: Anger, but keep matching emotion to concern, and you’ll get there. Once they are at Level 1, they will be ready to talk about facts. (They may even admit that they were exaggerating before. But I’m not guaranteeing miracles.)

This approach is simple, but it’s definitely not easy. Be sincere about it and keep trying. Eventually, you’ll learn to read the other person accurately. Your relationship will get stronger, and you’ll help them improve their volume control.

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Filed under Interpersonal, Relationships