Dealing with emotions is closely linked to handling feelings. Some people see emotions and feelings as the same thing, others see emotions as more intense leading to stronger reactions than feelings. An emotion may also be more visible physically, whereas a feeling can be under the surface with few, or no, visual clues.

Because emotions are a strong reaction, they can be difficult to manage and some recommend that we do not try to contain them, we should let them out and express them. You probably know people who deal with feelings and emotions very differently, some let them out and some keep them bottled up. The situation is also a factor, we would hardly ask someone who is grieving over the death of a loved one not to be upset, but it's a different situation if someone is unable to control their anger every time a particular subject is raised. The important thing is, in a similar way to expressing feelings, that we have a way to move beyond the initial expression of the emotion and be able to work on the underlying needs driving the emotion.

There are two parts to dealing with emotions; when we react emotionally and when others react.

Dealing with our own emotions

In the context of restorative dialogue an emotional reaction is not going to help the situation. So how do we prevent an emotional reaction. Steve Peters in The Chimp Paradox describes the idea that in order to prevent our chimp reacting emotionally we need an autopilot - a plan of what we will do in a given situation. The chimp is strong and quick, so the human mind cannot control it. What reacts quicker than the chimp is the computer mind, which in effect says to the emotional chimp “no need to get concerned we have a way of dealing with this, you can go back to sleep”.

Whatever your plan is, it needs to be in place and have been rehearsed in some way prior to the situation arising. This could be by mentally rehearsing the situation or doing some form of role play.

A further aspect of dealing with your own emotions and feelings is to give yourself permission to express your feelings. The nonviolent communication (NVC) approach to this would be to follow the pattern of stating what you have observed, expressing the feeling it produced for you, link it to the underlying need, and make a request. In dialogue, making a request is not necessarily be appropriate, so you might use a pattern of "When you do/say ____________, I feel ____________ because ____________." This sounds simple; in practice it might not be so easy in the heat of the moment. Maybe the first two steps would be a start. Describe what you observed and how it acted as the stimulus for your feeling.

Of course we might not have a thought out autopilot that can kick in when a stimulus for an emotional reaction comes along. We might get emotionally triggered. What do we do in this situation? The first thing is to recognise that we have reacted. If we can do this we can also be mindful that we will not be thinking logically or in a way that is likely to promote cooperation. In this situation it is probably best to take yourself to quiet place to have your internal rant. Eventually, your chimp will wear itself out and calm down. Being mindful of the thoughts going through your mind may be a way to calm the chimp more quickly, but not necessarily.

Dealing with the emotions of others

Dealing with the emotions of others can be based on the same two approaches described above. You can use the NVC approach of second guessing the stimulus, feelings and needs of another person, until you uncover what is causing the strong reaction. Alternatively, Steve Peters suggests letting the chimp wear itself out. Whichever approach you try bear in mind that the person will not be in a rational and cooperative frame of mind.