Emotions: An Exercise and a Tool


continents

Continents of Emotion

Emotional intelligence has been a major buzz word the last few years. Deservedly so; in this highly polarized world of ours emotional intelligence might be more valuable than just about any other intelligence. Obviously, interculturally competent people need to have emotional intelligence. We need to be able to understand why we respond the way we do, and channel our emotions in constructive ways. We need to be able to not get upset just because someone else does, and remain committed over the long term.

It has long interested me, then, since emotions are so important to our happiness and success in life, why we don’t we, as average people, know more about them? How many words for different emotions can you list? Happy, sad, joyful, loving, aggravated… Take a moment to try it and see.

  1. Make a list of terms for different emotions. Capture quickly as many as you can.
  2. Organize the words you listed into major categories of human emotion, and give each of the categories a name.
  3. Rank the words you’ve listed within each category in order of intensity.
  4. Finally, link the categories of emotions to the behaviors they can motivate.

Now ask your family members, friends, or team members to do the same. My guess is you’ll find some key commonalties and some significant differences. Definitely you will be able to have a fruitful discussion about emotions and how they are interpreted and expressed across your various cultural groups.

The exercise above emerged after I came upon a resource some months ago that I have found useful in helping me reflect on and distinguish the emotions in my life. It’s called the Atlas of Emotions, and it’s a free online tool.

The tool begins with five “Continents of Emotion:” Sadness, Fear, Enjoyment, Anger, and Disgust. I must say, I don’t like the ratio of four out of five negative emotions, but… Clicking on any continent tells you a core motivator of that emotion.

Next you can go into “States of Emotion;” there are many states for each core emotion, and the tool ranks them in representative intensity. Third, you can click on “Actions of Emotion,” where we see what type of behavior we might take in response to the various emotions we feel. This to me is an especially powerful cross-cultural piece. The tool then takes us into the “Triggers of Emotion.” Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

“Moods of Emotion” are described as “longer-lasting cousins of the emotion, that cause the related emotion to be felt more frequently and intensely. It is not always apparent what triggers a mood.”

Finally, according to the tool, “A calm, balanced frame of mind is necessary to evaluate and understand our changing emotions. Calmness ideally is a baseline state, unlike emotions, which arise when triggered and then recede.”

Let me say that the part about the Atlas of Emotions that quickly concerned me is in the biography of the lead psychologist behind the tool, Paul Ekman. He apparently “demonstrated the universality of facial expression of emotion, mapping all 43 muscle groups used in facial expression.” I have not taken the time to review themes recent literature on this subject, but if you are reading this blog, you no doubt are well aware that facial expression and expression of emotion are far from universal. I welcome anyone current on the subject to please enlighten us in the comments below.

Despite this misgiving, I find the tool quite useful. It can be used for powerful personal reflection and learning, and it can be a terrific tool for discussing and reflecting on emotions across cultures—to understand more deeply, with more distinctions. I can see its use in conjunction with Cultural Detective Self Discovery, Cultural Detective Bridging Cultures, or any CD Worksheet analysis of critical incidents.

In the end, if you use a tool like this simply to spark thinking, reflection, learning, and discussion, then the thoroughness, accurateness, or universality of the tool doesn’t matter that much. If you give this exercise a go, please come back and share your experience!

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