Emotions have a place, when handled

An introvert, I used to try to conceal my emotions, afraid they would show a weakness.

Then I watched some of my favorite performers and realized another perspective.

Emotions have a place, when handled.

My desire was to learn how to gain control of emotions, then appropriately pull people into my conversations. Although I wanted people to like me, I really wanted people to value my thinking and beliefs. Soon I realized this meant I should learn to inspire by demonstrating what is important to me and by paying attention to what is important to others.

A steadfast listener, I often behave by smiling and nodding. What has been a real lesson to me is creating transparency with my thoughts and expression. This behavior allows me to stay present to what someone is communicating – whether through their words or behavior. Smiling and nodding are great behaviors for demonstrating encouragement, yet they don’t necessarily prove we are paying attention. If they persist, they demonstrate the opposite – what we’re paying attention to is ourselves, not others.

My theatre production involvement has given me some metrics to guide my ability to handle and express emotions. Here are three examples.

1. Early in my performing career I was cast as the romantic lead/antagonist in the show, Early One Evening at the Rainbow Bar and Grill for a community theatre production in Findlay, Ohio. A show about the distruction of the world except for 2 characters – Shep and Virginia – the plot centered on anticipating the world’s survival if Shep can tame Virginia into getting over herself and trusting a man enough to re-populate life.

In this show I didn’t have the emotional realm I needed for the character of Virginia to be developed until the end of the show’s run. I needed to display anger, frustration, confusion, remorse and regard for others. But I was too shallow in my display. Anger was easy, frustration was easy but the milder, deeper expressions of remorse and regard were a stretch. Until late in the run, the show suffered from my characterization. Although I enjoyed the extreme expressions of the negative feelings, I hadn’t matured enough to create the transitions into a broken character now ready to be vulnerable and trusting.

Character transition is an important turning point for any show, including this one. And all-the more important in daily life.

Emotional transition was also a key way for me to demonstrate stability in my adult life. Until I came to this awareness for myself, my behaviors in my professional and performance lives would show me a shallow, disconnected human being. How fortunate for me I have grown in vulnerability, which allows me to demonstrate catharsis, turning-point, and maturity.

Give thought to what your daily behaviors and way of expressing yourself really say about you. My reflection on my own emotional expression has been an eye-opening lesson for me.

2. Several years later in Toledo, Ohio, I was cast as one of the comedic leads in Polish Joke, a play written by David Ives which confusingly creates sarcasm about humble Poles while also including scenes which have them lashing out at the American distaste and disappointment in them. This show is often directed in an 0ver-the-top comedic fashion. Which is fun to perform.

For this particular show I lacked the cultural sensitivity to  the subject, instead going for the entertaining display of emotion. It’s not lost on me that my introverted nature has often reached out for extreme emotional expression. Dramas and tragedies have been my favorite scripts to perform. And comedies that are over-the-top. It used to give my immature mentality a chance to jump all over the place in terms of emotional expression. Unfortunately, this confuses an audience and gives the playwright disservice.

I regret to say that as late as dress rehearsal for Polish Joke, I was not well-rehearsed in my transitioning process nor was I present to my environment. I was operating in “last night’s rehearsal mode” when I was able to thoroughly connect with the appropriate emotions.

Later in my performance career I would hear director Jimmy X from the National Shakespeare Conservatory tell us performers, “when it comes to legitimate performance, there is nothing that makes it so except for the NOW. Forget last night. Focus on the present. Do not emote.”

Unfortunately, during the dress rehearsal of Polish Joke I was ready to emote. And the audience picked up on it. The theatre critic singled me out as “forcing” my emotion. Why did this happen? I wasn’t present. I was focusing on what worked well the night before and trying to recreate it instead of being “in the moment” and going with my gut for how to express my emotions.

What a difference when we demonstrate our emotions transparently vs. trying to recall them.

Being transparent with our emotions requires a level of confidence and also faith in self. We cannot go wrong with this.

From an observer’s standpoint, there is little to no connection, let alone inspiration, if we are disconnected from our own emotion and simply “telling” about something. Telling about something distances us from the emotion of the experience. Yet when we allow ourselves the chance to get connected to the emotion, handle it and operate from it, we let others experience the same thing. Whether a theatre audience, a jury, a board room or others.

Can you relate?

Okay, one more metric that has guided my personal abilities in handling emotion.

3. In early 2000, the same year I started Breaking Down Barriers, my communication and presentation coaching business, I was honored to play the lead in Reckless, a dark, dream-like comedy-fantasy by Craig Lucas that takes place in a strange, hallucinogenic otherworld. Rachel, the character I played, is an annoying, air-headed housewife who discovers on Christmas Eve that her husband Tom has arranged for a hit man to murder her.

The nature of the show leads to mystery, confusion and intrigue with designs for a heartfelt, gratifying ending. Fortunately my performance abilities as well as my confidence in my expression had developed to the degree that  audiences would respond to the times I was alone and silent on stage, saying volumes. The theatre critic for the Toledo Blade gave me high marks for my versatility and command of expression.

With trust in my abilities – due in part to my wealth of performance, practice as well as emotional stability as an individual – I enjoyed this role and the performance of it.

The key to my success was one thing – focus on the now. Not on myself, but the ideas in front of me.

With that, I could be silent and communicate. I could leave people hanging on my words, and when my words ended, wanting more.

You can, too. Introvert or extrovert, either of us are ripe for commanding and inspiring an audience. Emotions have a place. Learn to handle them.

Get real with who you are, practice emotional transparency, be vulnerable and notice the difference it makes in your influence.

 Individual communication coaching

Share Button