So much of the world we are experiencing these days is filled with newness, change, and learning. And with newness and change and learning come feelings. We then act based on our feelings. In most cases we act on a feeling before we even understand what that feeling is. This usually leads to arguments, conflict, upsetting others, and in the end, rarely addressing the underlying feeling you had in the first place. 

I worked with a staff member that was upset by the way their supervisor spoke to them in a virtual meeting one day. They said their boss snapped at them and said not one person on the team was doing anything to help with a particular project. 

With permission from the staff member, I met with the supervisor. I started by asking the supervisor what they remember about the situation. I also wanted to better understand what the supervisor was experiencing that led to the strong reaction.

After some time, the supervisor said they just didn’t know what was going on for them internally at the time of the meeting. The two of us were on Zoom, so I shared my screen and took the opportunity to share a feelings inventory. I asked them to identify 3-5 main feelings. They identified the following five feelings:

  • Foreboding
  • Panicked
  • Exasperated
  • Turmoil
  • Vulnerable

I then shared the needs inventory and asked them to identify what needs are not being met that lead to these feelings. They chose the following three needs:

  • Community
  • Stability
  • Shelter

Next, I asked the supervisor to tell me how they understood this. It turns out, the supervisor was concerned higher education was at risk due to the changes with COVID-19. This led them to fear losing their job and no longer having stability in their life – both in terms of community as well as financial stability to continue paying their rent. This led to the realization that they joined the team meeting with those above feelings coming to the surface without even recognizing it. 

I asked the supervisor what they would have done differently had they recognized the feelings prior to the meeting. They said they might  have postponed the meeting until they were in a better headspace. It was important to them to provide support and stability for their team. To do this, the supervisor noted that it was necessary to take care of their own needs first. 

We then planned and practiced how to approach the team at the next meeting to address and apologize for what happened. 

I share this example to show how  quickly, and unknowingly, we react to others based on feelings we don’t know we are having. More often than not, these actions don’t help the situation or improve our feelings. In fact, they usually exacerbate the original negative feelings. 

In the next few days, I encourage you to try an experiment:

  1. Get the book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, or have available a copy of the feelings and needs inventories. 
  2. When you find yourself feeling “off”, “upset”,  “uncomfortable”, “unsure”, or just plain “weird” – sit down and read the feelings. Identify 3-5 main feelings. You can also do this exercise by picking a time each day – maybe before or after lunch, or before transitioning from work/school to home – to identify 3-5 feelings.
  3. Read through the list of needs and identify 1-3 core needs that lead to those feelings. 
  4. Write down what you would have done had you not done this exercise. 
  5. Write down new options for how to move forward now that you’ve identified these feelings and needs. 

Try this as an experiment and see how it impacts your day. We in the Ombuds Office are here to help should this exercise raise an issue you aren’t sure how to approach. 

By Teresa Ralicki, Ombuds,
University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus Ombuds Office