When we communicate verbally, we are using symbols to convey meaning. If I tell someone that my car is red, there is a high probability that (if they are listening) they will understand what I am trying to communicate. Because he or she probably has a very clear understanding of what the word red and car represent. People don’t argue often about whether something is red or not. Or whether it is raining or not. These type of concrete statements rarely the source of confusion or disagreement.
Emotions, on the other hand, can be slippery. Here is a small example using a common emotion: fear.
I am afraid of big, barking dogs.
Simple statement. The meaning should be clear. A deeper examination of two test cases, however, demonstrates that when emotions are the content of the message communication is rarely black and white (or red). The same statement communicated by two different people can have radically different meanings.
Person A: I am afraid of big, barking dogs. Person A is does not like loud noises in general. Neither does he like dogs. He thinks they are filthy creatures who track mud everywhere they go. Barking dogs are a combination of two things this person doesn’t like. Loud noises make him nervous and bigger dogs bark louder.
Person B: I am afraid of big, barking dogs. Person B was attacked by a neighbor’s dog as a child. He had to go to the hospital to treat the injuries and still has scars on his arms. He vividly remembers being told that the dog was friendly, all bark and no bite. He feels tightness in his chest when he is close to larger dogs.
Same statement. Completely different meanings. It is the responsibility of both the speaker and the listener to ensure emotional statements are understood.