When you learn how to remain neutral, you easily align with others and create win-win relationships. Practicing neutrality by remembering your strengths and positive behaviors will expand your horizons and enable you to discover more effective ways of dealing with potentially uncomfortable situations.
Imagine the following scenario:
You receive an email from one of your colleagues - let's say her name is Amanda. Her email is long and dramatic, detailing how she has had a rough weekend. Her father is in the hospital so she hasn't had much sleep and is behind on a project that you are both involved in. She's requesting that you take up some slack for her on the project. You've heard stories that she has a lot of drama in her life and that she has a tendency to pull others into her dramas, causing them to get lost in the overwhelming emotion. Instead of helping Amanda, her empathetic colleagues and friends mean well, but they end up getting pulled down by the emotions of her story. Because of the drama pattern she tends to fuel, no one gets much done and people around her are affected by her sense of overwhelm.
Think about what you should do in this scenario.
Can you be an empathetic, caring person but not get emotionally drained by Amanda's problems? Yes, you can! There are certain philosophies that teach us how to cope and process emotions by being a "neutral witness" to a situation. This is achieved by becoming and remaining neutral to potentially emotionally draining situations. Instead of getting personally involved you practice not getting emotional in the situation. This will help prevent the situation from sapping your emotional energy.
We will practice one of these neutrality tools now.
Imagine that you are reading the dramatic and emotional email from Amanda.
- What emotions come up for you? For example: sadness, stress, irritation.
- Give your emotions a color and/or a shape. For this example, pretend that they are fiery red fishing hooks that are shooting towards you, trying to pull you into the story.
- Instead of letting the hooks land on you, imagine that you have a landing pad in front of you, a neutral place for the emotional hooks to land. This will prevent you from internalizing the situation and becoming emotionally invested in it. You can empathize with Amanda and take the role of a colleague or friend who understands that we all experience good times and difficult ones.
- However, you can keep Amanda's situation and emotions external to you. In doing this, you are practicing neutrality; this will enable you to make clear, logical decisions about the best course of action for both you and Amanda.
Spend a few more moments imagining you are reading Amanda's email, and "watch" or sense the emotional hooks landing on the pad in front of you. Move the landing pad out so it is about a foot in front of you. Then after you've finished reading the email and you have all the drama and hooks on your landing pad, move the landing pad further away from you, into an empty place, and let it float away. Imagine that it disappears into thin air, or gets washed away to the sea, or some other image that helps you to clear it out of your mind and free up your mental space.
- Then imagine saying "hello" to Amanda wherever she is now. Take a few moments to imagine that you are talking to her and acknowledging that her situation must be quite difficult; say whatever else you want to communicate to her.
- Now imagine you say "goodbye" to her and say whatever you need to say so that you are able to let it go. You can use this process for any emotion-provoking situation that comes up in your life; it's especially useful for dealing with emails like this.
To help build and strengthen your neutrality skills, ask yourself the following questions.
- Is it your responsibility to solve Amanda's problems?
- Should this be your role?
- What is one way you could be empathetic but neutral for Amanda? (Hint: the exercise above.)
- What is best for you and what is best for Amanda?
- If you tend to get very emotional in others' situations, why do you think that is?
Use the "landing-pad" imagery technique and these questions any time you feel you're in danger of internalizing someone else's problems.
This way you'll be able to empathize with situations like Amanda's, while remaining neutral enough to help support her in more useful ways that don't cause excessive drama.