How to Avoid Emotional Flooding: The Four Rules of Communication

According to Attitude Reconstruction, a model that is a blend of eastern spirituality and western practicality, all good communication boils down to following four simple rules. Abiding by them, anyone can communicate about any topic effectively and lovingly.

There are also four opposing violations that create the misunderstandings and ensuing hurt, alienation and confusion that we experience when communicating with others.

1. The first rule is “talk about yourself.”

This is our true domain. Share what we feel, think, want, and need. This brings closeness as we reveal information about ourselves.

The First Violation is to tell other people about themselves (without permission). This includes blame, sarcasm, teasing, attacking, and finger-pointing. It only creates separation and alienation.

2. The second rule is to stay specific.

That’s what we do with music, architecture, engineering, cooking, math, physics, and computers; and what we must do when communicating. When we stay concrete others can understand what we’re saying – the topic, the request, the reasons. It brings peace.

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The Second Violation is over-generalizing. This can take the form of sweeping conclusions, abstractions, and labels, and using words like “always” and “never,” or bringing in other topics only barely related to the subject at hand. This is confusing and it fuels fear.

3. The third rule is kindness.

Compassion fosters love. It can take the form of offering appreciations, praise, focusing on the positive, and sharing gratitude.

The Third Violation is being unkind. Focusing on what’s not working, on what we don’t like, throws a blanket on furthering a conversation and produces anger and feelings of separation in the recipient.

4. The fourth rule is simply to listen.

That means seeking to truly understand what someone is saying, and encouraging their speech. This brings closeness. Listening is a practice.

The Fourth Violation is not listening. We know how that feels. Automatic interruptions, debates, and wise-cracks don’t truly acknowledge the speaker but instead further our own agenda.

The four rules bring loving, effective communication and feelings of connection. These rules are very simple (but not easy) and the rewards of abiding by them are great. In contrast, the violations apply in virtually every setting and cause communication breakdowns and distance.

Now you know how to communicate. The next task is to recognize what to do when the person you are trying to have a verbal interaction with is under the influence of the emotions of sadness, anger, or fear.

The Three Communication Bridges

Seeing and hearing are natural gifts for us. Look at the way animals use their senses to their advantage. They can sense safety, danger, play, and even food! We can use our senses to determine if someone is swept up in sadness, anger, or fear. And then we can confidently know how to best offer help.   

With just a little practice, you'll be able to recognize the emotions underneath other people's demeanor, words, and actions. Rather than reacting to what they say or do, you can extend a communication "bridge" to help shift their emotional state by offering what they truly long to hear but don't know how to ask for.

 Emotion       Bridge

 Sadness   appreciation    Joy
 Anger   understanding    Love
 Fear   reassurances    Peace

To figure out what emotion is probably going on, ask yourself "Where is their attention focused?"

1. People feeling sadness (but often not crying) are most likely thinking or speaking poorly of themselves. Maybe they are being passive or clingy. They need genuine appreciations.

In your interactions with them, convey the idea, "I love you. You're great." Remind them of their strengths and contributions.

2. Folks striking out in anger and spewing "you"s all over the place with blame, negativity, and criticism really just feel isolated and are in desperate need of understanding. They won't respond well to debates, lectures, or reprimands. The chances they'll hear what you have to say are slim to none unless you can genuinely connect with them first. You need to sincerely hear them out without taking what they say personally.

Focus on what's going on with them behind their angry words and let the rest go flying by, that is, their "you"s and accusations. Silently repeat or say, "I want to hear what you have to say" and just listen. 

3. If someone is overwhelmed, anxious, or freaked out chances are she's got some unexpressed fear stocked up. She needs honest reassurances.

Comfort, soothe, and repeatedly remind her that everything is and will be all right. Other reassuring comments are "We'll make our way through this together," "I'm here" or "I'll take care of it." Or offer reassurances by reminding her of the objective reality: "Your boss really likes the work you do," or "You've done this successfully before.

Handling Your Own Emotions

If you're unable or unwilling to offer a communication bridge, it's probably because your own unexpressed emotions are getting in the way. It's okay. You're human. To quickly reignite your clarity and compassion, take a brief time-out and handle your own emotions.

If you feel hurt, go someplace safe and have yourself a good cry. If you feel angry, then you’ll need to move out that hot, aggressive anger energy like a toddler having a temper tantrum. That means stomping around, pounding on a pillow, or pushing against a wall while just making angry noises.

The important thing is not to think or voice negative things about the person while you are releasing the emotional energy. And if you feel scared or anxious, shiver like a dog at the vet, and shake that agitated feeling out of your body. (see video at the end of this article)

Extending a Bridge and Showing Genuine Compassion

After you’ve moved the emotional energy, you can remind yourself of the objective reality, such as “They are just feeling sadness. It’s okay,” “People are the way they are, not the way I think they should be” or “This will pass. They are just freaked out right now.”

In addition, to center yourself, you can remember your goal – you want to extend a bridge and show genuine compassion.

Now you will be ready and able to extend a bridge.

You'll deepen your personal relationships when you become adept at recognizing other people's emotions. You can use this knowledge to connect and offer a hand.

What an amazing talent you'll be cultivating. For example, if you know that your husband is quick to anger, instead of it ruffling your feathers, you can consciously listen silently and understand his position, especially at times when he is upset or under stress, and not take it personally.

If a workmate often seems glum or down, you can choose to validate her gifts and skills a little more often instead of being sucked into their dark cloud. If a friend is constantly overwhelmed and worried, instead of offering advice, you can offer to teach her to shiver or offer reassurance that everything will be all right.

By abiding by the four rules of good communication and extending a bridge when others are in the grip of unexpressed emotions you will deepen your personal relationships, stay centered, and learn to weather any storm.

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©2015 by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T. All Rights Reserved.

Article written by the author of

Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.

Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.

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About the Author

Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T., author of: Attitude ReconstructionJude Bijou is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), an educator in Santa Barbara, California and the author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. In 1982, Jude launched a private psychotherapy practice and started working with individuals, couples, and groups. She also began teaching communication courses through Santa Barbara City College Adult Education. Word spread about the success of Attitude Reconstruction, and it wasn’t long before Jude became a sought-after workshop and seminar leader, teaching her approach to organizations and groups. Visit her website at

Watch an interview with Jude Bijou: How to Experience More Joy, Love and Peace