If you have strong negative feelings, it’s best to say what you feel, rather than bottling them up, right?

Surprisingly, expressing strong negative feelings may not be the best way of getting you what you want.

That’s because people at the receiving end of strong negative feelings may be provoked to react in the same way – shout at me and I will shout at you! If this happens, you may do or say things that you later regret. The result can be a real dog fight, until someone storms off or even becomes violent. A really stressful situation!

On the other hand, if the person on the receiving end of the strong emotion is in a weaker position, they may grit their teeth and not react at all. Not out of respect of course, but because they feel bullied and unable to say what they would really like to say.

The problem with both these reactions is that there is very little real listening going on. The best possible outcome will be forced or begrudged compliance to what one person wants, which is unlikely to be effective in solving the real problem.

So when you next find yourself in an emotional situation, what can you do to get what you need? How do you remain resilient?

Fortunately there is a simple three-step formula which will always help. To illustrate these steps, take an example of your teenager staying out late without letting you know where they are and that they are safe. When they eventually return, you feel huge relief …… but also real anger. Here’s what to do:

Step one: Stay calm.

Your instinctive reaction may be to give vent to how angry you are. But yelling won’t help in the long run. If you give in to your anger and frustration, and say the things you have bottled up, the other person will most likely stop listening. That means that you won’t find a long term solution to the problem.

Step two: Say what you need.

What do you really want in this situation? It may be to not worry, or to know that they are safe, or to be able to trust them to stick to their promises. Express your need without being negative or hurtful. “I need to be able to sleep at night knowing that you are safe when you are out late” is much more likely to be heard than: “I can’t sleep at night, worrying that you may have been killed in a car accident, being so irresponsible not letting me know you will be home late!”

Step three: Request what will satisfy your need.

Ask the person if they are prepared to do something to meet your need. For example “So I request that you to call or SMS me if you are going to be later than midnight. Are you willing to do that?”, or “I need to trust you, and know that you keep the agreements we have made. Are you willing to keep to our agreements in future?”

So the next time you are in a difficult emotional situation, use these steps to get what you really need!