In this episode, Barbara and Douglas discuss:
- How to appease an angry person and calm them within 90 seconds.
- How to deal with your emotions when you’re angry.
- How history changed our perspective towards emotions.
“We talked about how to ignore the words, listen and reflect the emotions. Try it on yourself the next time you feel anything other than perfectly happy, content, or satisfied!” – Douglas E. Noll
To get access to the resources:
Connect with Douglas E. Noll:
Connect with Barbara Hales:
Business website: www.TheMedicalStrategist.com
Show website: www.MarketingTipsForDoctors.com
Dr. Barbara Hales: Welcome to another episode of marketing tips for doctors. I’m your host, Dr. Barbara Hales. Today, we have Douglas E. Noll with us.
Douglas left a successful career as a trial lawyer to become a peacemaker. And, of course, we could all use more peacemakers. His qualities to serve humanity, and he executes his calling at many levels. He is an award-winning author, teacher, trainer, and highly experienced mediator. Doug’s work carries him from international work to helping people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts to training life inmates to be peacemakers and mediators in maximum security prisons. Welcome, Douglas.
Douglas E. Noll: Hey, Barbara, great to be here.
Leaving the Law Practice
Dr. Barbara Hales: Tell us about your background and life. Why would you leave the successful law practice to do this?
Douglas E. Noll: I grew up in Southern California, went back to East to Dartmouth College, majored in English, came back to California, went to law school, wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a lawyer. But what are you going to do? So, I worked for a judge for a year, and then in Central California, and then decided that “Well, I’ll give this last thing a try.” And so I joined a firm as a young lawyer, and they grew me to be a trial lawyer. And I joined the firm in September of 1978 and tried my first jury trial in November of 1978. And went on over the next 22 years to be a big-time commercial and financial trial lawyer. Here in the valley, there’s huge poverty. It’s one of the country’s poorest congressional districts, but there’s also a huge amount of wealth because of agriculture. There’s plenty to play to fight about. And that’s what I did. I fought for 22 years.
Along the way, I studied martial arts eventually and got a secondary black belt, and my teacher fired me. He said, “You’re too arrogant. You’re too full of yourself and too dangerous. And I’m not going to teach you anything more until you go out and master Tai Chi.” Which is interesting because Tai Chi is the oldest of all martial arts. Tai Chi has two paradoxes. The first is the softer you are, the stronger you are. And the second is, the more vulnerable you are, the more powerful you are. Soft to be strong, vulnerable to be powerful. It took a long time and a lot of practice. But finally, it did click, and I saw the wisdom of that pair of those paradoxes.
And one day, I was in a courtroom trying a case. And I thought to myself, what the heck I am doing in here. And after that trial, I had a vacation planned river trip up in Idaho with a bunch of friends, and I spent the week on my raft, thinking about how many people had served and concluded at the end of the week that I hadn’t served really, genuinely serve that many people and that this trial thing was not going to work out for me even though I made tons of money and was very successful. So when I came back to town, driving out of the mountains flying home up in the Central Sierra Nevada, I heard the only public service announcement for a new peacemaking degree. And in our new master’s degree in peacemaking and Conflict Studies. It caught my attention and I checked it out. It was at our local university, which is the West Coast Mennonite university president Pacific University. And they had qualms about bringing a lawyer under their program like me, and I had qualms about some of their ideology.
But we all said, “Let’s give it a try.” And it worked out beautifully. It was a perfect marriage. And so for the next three years, I was a full-time master’s degree student having my head exploded by all these new ideas. And I was teaching law three times three quarter time law professor and also a full-time trial lawyer. And that’s, I started discussing my partners about maybe whipping and peacemaking practicing quitting litigation. And they said, they didn’t like that idea at all.
So ultimately, in November 2000, I left with a week’s worth of notice, left $10 million on the table and opened up my own peacemaking and mediation practice, and never looked back. That’s the decision I ever made in my life. In 2005, I made my major discovery about the importance of listening to emotions, which completely changed my life. Nothing I’ve ever done up till then prepared me for that discovery. And then the science that followed a couple of years later established why this works so powerfully in the brain.
Dr. Barbara Hales: You say that we’re 98% emotional and only 2% rational. Some would disagree with you and say some people are not rational, Not at all. But how do you come to have those statistics?
Douglas E. Noll: Those numbers come from neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, a distinguished neuroscientist and medical doctor in Southern California. The truth is that emotions guide every part of our lives. We can’t eat and make any decision without emotion. We can’t even begin to be rational unless we’re emotional. Because, how would we even know to apply rational thinking or critical thinking, reasoning, logic, whatever it might be? How do we know to apply that to a problem unless we were having an emotional reaction to the environment that told us that a problem out there needs to be solved? We wouldn’t even know there was a problem unless we have an emotional reaction to our environment. And when we’re making decisions, most of our decisions are unconscious, but how do our brains make the decision, yes or no?
It’s based on an assessment of probability on what’s going to give me more pleasure or what’s going to keep caused me the least amount of pain. That aspect of the experience and decision-making is all emotional. So every single decision we make is emotional. And this whole idea that we’re rational and what separates us from other species is rationality is a myth. That goes back more than 4000 years, it’s been taught by philosophers and theologians for 1000s of years, and it’s just plain wrong. There is no science to support that. In fact, all science says exactly the opposite. And yet, it persists out there. And the reason is that up until very recently, people looked at emotions as troublesome, and at worst, chaotic and dangerous.
And so, we’ve been taught throughout our lives for generations and generations that our emotions are bad, evil, weak, and irrational, and we should not be emotional people. And this is what’s taught in families, for generation after generation after generation. When you’re a two-year-old, you’re out running around, and when you scraped your knee, what you are told is, “Don’t be a sissy. Don’t cry. Tough it up.” You’re told to not feel. And you’re fed that all through childhood and into adulthood.
When it’s time to have an intimate relationship, and you can’t feel your emotions because you’ve been told that emotions are bad, what happens? Train wrecks, after a train wreck after train wreck, and it’s carried on into the next generation. And we study after study that shows that this kind of stuff is incredibly abusive aces study, particularly the adverse childhood experiences study out of San Diego. Just shows that this kind of emotional abuse leads to morbid outcomes later in life—cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes. Just one bad, horrible disease after another all goes back to emotional abuse in childhood. And there’s irrefutable evidence around that from the Kaiser foundation. It’s a big deal.
De-escalate angry person
Dr. Barbara Hales: There’s so much anger out there nowadays, between vaxxers versus the anti-vaxxers. And before that Biden versus Trump. Every person’s idea, seems to be the best idea. And everybody else doesn’t hold water. Nobody has debates now. It’s like, it’s my idea, or you’re just stupid. So how do you defuse that anger? Can you really de-escalate an angry person in 90 seconds or less?
Douglas E. Noll: Yes, you can. It’s because it’s the way our brains are hardwired. So if we talk about political polarization, which is the broad description of the example you’re giving the reason we’re so polarized is that nobody’s listening to anybody else. All about polarization that we hear is all about people wanting to feel validated, wanting to be heard at a deep emotional level, and they’re not. And so what do they do? They yell louder. And they’re frightened. Many people are frightened and scared. And so they act out with anger, or in limited cases, violence. It’s all based on a deep need to be heard.
And that listening does not occur in our everyday lives because we have not been trained to listen to other people into existence. So the trick is this. Here are the three-part steps. Now I’m going to it’s very simple to describe, but it does take some practice to master it. The first step is to ignore the angry words. When you ignore the angry words, two things happen to you first, you don’t get triggered yourself. And second, you free up bandwidth in your brain to do the next two steps. So, there’s no reason to listen to the words, there’s no news here, we’ve heard these angry words before, we can ignore them, safely ignore them, don’t ignore the person, ignore the words.
Then the second step is to read the emotions of the person across from you. And oftentimes, it’s going to be anger. But underneath that anger, they’re going to be six or seven other emotions that you can fair it out. And the beauty of it is that your brain knows how to do this, all you have to do is let it do its thing. The reason why we don’t normally listen to emotions because we’ve been, like I said, we’ve been lied to for 4000 years, that emotions are bad. So we ignore this innate capacity that we have to read emotions. And this capacity has been with humans and hominids for millions of years. Most people don’t know that we’ve only had language as human beings for 230,000 years, just an eyeblink. And for millions of years before that, hominids communicated back clans and families and they were able to communicate non verbally, and became very adept at reading each other’s emotions. And that evolved in our brains is a very highly adaptive skill to have. But once we started getting language, people started focusing on words, and we sort of ignored emotions. And we didn’t lose this innate ability we have, but we just haven’t used it. So you can read anybody’s emotions, all you have to do is relax, be silent, and how they’re feeling will pop into your head, and you’ll have it almost immediately. And you’ll almost always be right; our brains are that good at it.
Then the third step, the secret sauce, is to reflect the emotions with a simple use statement. So I would say something like, “Barbara, you’re upset. You’re really pissed off, angry and feel completely disrespected, unappreciated and unsupported.” And it’s making you feel a little anxious, and you’re sad, you feel abandoned, and you’re frustrated. And you’re confused because you know what to do, and even feel a little betrayed. And all of this is upsetting and making you super angry. And that’s all you have to do. It’s that simple. Simple use stints. Don’t use “I” statements. That’s all wrong psychology from Thomas Gordon and Marshall Rosenberg, and all the 60 psychologists that didn’t know what they were talking about. And you use the direct use statement. And then you look for four things to happen. One, a nodding of the head. Two, a “Yeah! Exactly!” Three, a dropping of the shoulders or relaxation response or a sigh.
All of these are involuntary. And they’re telling you that you’ve gotten into their brains, and you’ve hit the relaxation responses. And what they’re what the science shows is that when we feedback emotions to an angry or upset person, we’re rebooting their prefrontal cortex. Which is a shorthand way of talking about a fairly complex subject. But we’re lending our prefrontal cortex to this angry person for the 30 to 45 seconds it takes for that other person’s prefrontal cortex to come back online.
Science shows an inverse relationship between the activation of the prefrontal cortex and the innovation of the emotional centers of the brain as one activates the other inhibits. And so the emotional centers can activate, and that will inhibit the prefrontal cortex. So we’re going to think when we’re upset longer, and if we can reactivate the prefrontal cortex, which is very hard to do by yourself, you can’t do it, by the way, but it’s hard to do unless you have training.
Then, as the prefrontal cortex activates, the emotional centers inhibit, and people can think again, and now they can get control of themselves. And this is all through a process known as ethic labeling in the scientific circles, it’s known as “implicit emotional self-regulation.” There are about 20 to 20 studies out there that verify and show how this all works very, very powerful. And from a practical perspective, it’s how you can calm down an angry person. 2-year-olds all the way up to 40-year-olds are acting like two-year-olds, or 90-year-olds who are acting like 2-year-olds, you can calm them down literally in 45 seconds.
So if we bring it around to your work, where you’re working with the same medical practices, and you’ve got, let’s say you’ve got a nurse who’s dealing with a really upset, angry patient. Well, of course, patients are going to be upset and angry, they’re not feeling well. They’re in pain. They’re in discomfort. They’re confused. They’re scared. Why not take 45 seconds before you do anything else, and listen to that patient and de-escalate them. “You’re really angry. You’re really scared, you’re frightened, and you’re confused. You don’t understand what’s going on. You’re in a lot of pain and hurts. You don’t feel like anybody’s supporting you’re listening to you. And this is really frustrating and upsetting to you.” How long did it take? 10 seconds? 15 seconds? A patient calms down and now you can start thinking about problem solving. Okay, so tell me what’s going on? As opposed to getting that clinical lawyers have the same problem.
So, I’m not picking on doctors, getting that clinical, detached, non-emotional, non-validating stance that we’re all taught in professional school and trying to be the smart, non-completely detached, non-emotional person, which is the worst thing you can do. Now, just because I validate your emotions doesn’t mean that I agree with you. And it doesn’t mean that I’m taking your emotions on as my own. What I’m doing is a very scientific, proven process for helping your brain calm down, so that you can receive appropriate information and help me do my job, which is help you solve a problem. But you can’t do that unless you de-escalate first. And that’s how you do it.
Dr. Barbara Hales: Do you get people that say, “Don’t placate me?”
Douglas E. Noll: Here’s what’s going on. It doesn’t happen very often if you’re good. You’ll get that one if you’re kludgy. And you haven’t practiced it enough. The other time you’ll get it is when because this is what happens when you do this listening, you create instant intimacy. And people all have these walls, right. So here’s, this is the part of me that I don’t want you to see. Because it’s the ugly, shameful, horrible little me that I’ve been told all my life is awful and will never amount to anything because my parents emotionally abused me for years. And then here’s my professional persona out here that I want to show everybody else. That’s the way most people are.
When you affect label, and listen to their emotions, you drive right through this wall and you go back past the other wall. And you create instant intimacy, and it scares the heck out of people. Because all of a sudden you see them for who they really are. And they are scared to death and shame to death of being seen for who they really are. That’s what they think. And so, their defenses will immediately come back and push like that and said, “Don’t placate me! Who do you think you are? My psychotherapist?” When something like that happen, you just know you over succeeded. You were too successful and you were too direct.
So, the trick then is to back off, let it drop for about 10 or 15 minutes, and then come back and just try again. But make it a throwaway. Come on, you’re pissed off. And make it a very fast throwaway statement with no with no big deal behind it. And then see what happens. Watch what happens. And that’s how you deal with it.
Dr. Barbara Hales: Why isn’t emotional competency taught to us? Why isn’t it led to us?
Douglas E. Noll: First of all, it’s an interesting question. Our society thinks it’s up to our families to develop emotional competency and children. But the problem is that 96% of all families are emotionally dysfunctional, they cannot teach emotional competency. This goes back to the work of Virginia Satir, she developed family systems theory. She was a psychologist and family theorist this back in the 70s in the 80s. And she said 96% of all families are emotionally dysfunctional. How can you expect a family to develop emotional competency in their children when the parents themselves are emotionally incompetent? It can’t happen.
So, then you get into the school system and our formal educational system is all based on this rational bias that I talked about, where everything’s rational, and you’re told not to be emotional because emotions get in the way of learning. That’s wrong! Because the only way you can learn is through emotions and memory are closely associated with each other. But our educational system, trains the part of our brain called the task focus system, which is all about learning algorithms, and formulas and knowledge acquisition, etc. What our educational system does not do is train our social or what’s known as our default system, which is our social system, empathy. Learning how to listen and learning how to listen to ourselves. Learning how to de-escalate people, learning how to work with and recognize and understand our childhood triggers, learning how to be emotionally self-aware, and emotionally self-regulate.
These are all part of what’s known as the social system and the brain’s task focus system that needs to be trained. And they aren’t, because of this bias against rationality, which leads to huge amounts of abuse and people never, they just don’t develop the skills.
Dr. Barbara Hales: In addition to the people at the front desk, they were trying to diffuse patients’ anger. Learning how to control anger also contributes to a much smoother and happier workplace among staff members if they can figure out how to diffuse their anger before dealing with their colleagues and co-workers in a small confined space. Do you have a course where you guide people on how to get rid of anger and be happier people?
Douglas E. Noll: I’ve got an online course called “Developing Emotional Competency.” And I think I got a link that created a webpage.
Dr. Barbara Hales: So listeners, I’m going to put that link in the show notes so that you can look into that.
Douglas E. Noll: Go to dougnoll.co/medicalstrategist, then on that on that page, which I created just for everybody who’s listening today, has three resources. One, free eBook that goes into much more detail about everything that I’ve talked about. Two, if you want to buy my book, “Deescalate,” you can do that at roughly $15 – $16 off at Amazon by going to my website. And three, if you’re really interested in learning these skills, and want to invest some time and effort and some money, you can join up for my online course called “Developing Emotional Competency,” which will teach you all of these skills that I’ve been talking about.
Dr. Barbara Hales: Since you’ve become so skilled at listening to others, I’m sure your wife is very happy and family members.
Douglas E. Noll: I would say that this the birth of our second marriage, I have never been happier before in my life and never been as happy as I am right now. We have a fantastic marriage. I never thought marriage could be like this; I would beyond my wildest expectation that we could be this way. We do not argue, fight, and suppress. We do not engage in any of the common couple’s problems that people experience. We have none of that. All we have is love and respect. And every day every morning, “How do you feel?” What’s going on? And that all sounds like today?” I said, “Well, I’m a little anxious, I got to get on the tractor and do some work.” And I live in the mountains, I have to do some sculpting land sculpting and I’m still new it and she’s “Oh, so you’re really anxious. A little scary a little bit.” I said, “Yeah. This is all new to me, though. So, you’re concerned and anxious and a little nervous about how this is going to work out?”
Dr. Barbara Hales: So, an improvement in interpersonal relationships is not just professional but in every aspect of our lives.
Douglas E. Noll: Foundational. This is a foundational skills of life.
Dr. Barbara Hales: Where can people go to learn more about your work?
Douglas E. Noll: My main website is dougnoll.com. If you want to just check out what I’ve created for your audience, it’s dougnoll.co/medicalstrategist. They’ll find the resources there. And once you jump on that page, you’ll see the menu and you can jump around. I have an extensive website with lots of articles, YouTube channel, everything that describes all of this things in great detail. And you can go as deep as you want to go as fast as you want to go.
Dr. Barbara Hales: Before you leave our listeners today, is there one tip that you could give us now before delving into your book and course, that will make us better individuals.
Douglas E. Noll: So I’ve talked about how to ignore the words listen to the emotions and reflect the emotions. Try it on yourself the next time you feel anything other than perfectly happy, or content or satisfied. Say to yourself, “I’m really frustrated. I’m a little pissed off. I’m a little angry. I don’t feel respected. Right and I just felt ignored. I feel unappreciated, unsupported. That makes me feel a little sad because I feel a little abandoned.”
Just label the emotional experience you’re having in the moment and then monitor what happens inside and outside yourself. And you will notice dramatic changes in how you feel inside and how you respond outside. We don’t have time to go into the science but it’s there. It’s involves the polyvagal system and a concept known as enteroception and it’s quite powerful. So just try that and see what happens. And then people can always email me at email@example.com and tell me what their experience is. I always reply to my emails.
Dr. Barbara Hales: Thank you so much for being here today. It was really very educational and informative. And you’re going to get a whole bunch of listeners glued to the mirror today practicing that exercise. This has been another episode of Marketing Tips for Doctors with your host, Dr. Barbara Hales, until next time!