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Feelings, Thoughts, and Actions

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: Feelings, Thoughts, and Actions

Have you ever had to sit someone down and talk with them about their feelings, thoughts, and actions. Basically, their behavior? As a Dad I find myself having these conversations all the time.

Son… I told you not to hit your brother. But Dad, he made me really angry.

To my kid, his feelings totally justify thoughts and actions.

How about when you have to confront a team member about that heated altercation during the last retrospective?

Bob… slamming your fist on the table was totally unacceptable behavior. But Mike, if I hear one more time that the build is late I am going to scream.

The Relationship Between How Our Feelings, Thoughts, and Actions

While there is clearly a relationship between how we feel, how we think, and how we act… it is my opinion that our feelings NEVER actually justify our actions. Think about it, are we EVER entitled to get angry and punch someone? Are we EVER entitled to get our feelings hurt and lash out with a personal attack? Are we EVER entitled to treat others disrespectfully when we have been treated with disrespect? Even when it comes to positive emotions like love, affection, or friendship; our feelings must be tempered by our values and principles before we respond.

By understanding the right relationship between our feelings, thoughts, and actions we give ourselves the opportunity to choose how we want to behave. Knowing we have that choice gives us the opportunity to change. By understanding there is not an immutable link between our feelings and our actions, can work to decouple them. We can work to capture our feelings and break them down… we can understand them. We can become intentional about how we think and how we see the world around us. We can make a conscious decision to act in accordance with what is most important to us.


Validate Feelings

Feelings come from the deepest parts of ourselves… they are an integral part of who we are. While we may change how we feel over time, it is unlikely that anyone is going to coach them out of us. It is how we are wired. When coaching either my kids or my team members, I usually start by validating feelings.

I know your brother made you mad, I would be mad too if he did that to me.

By validating feelings you validate the individual and create the opportunity to learn in a non-threatening environment. It creates the opportunity to change how people think.

Guide Thinking

How we think can be influenced more directly… it is somehow less personal. We can learn about our environment and the people that are a part of our lives. We can gather more information about what motivates those around us and learn something about their intentions and circumstances. With new information, we can learn to think differently about what is happening to us.

Why do you think your brother was annoying you? Maybe he felt lonely and wanted you to play with him.

By guiding thinking, we are able to broaden the perspective of our team and create the opportunity to coach behavior.

Coach Action

We cannot be held accountable for how we feel… we cannot be held accountable for how we think. We can and will be held accountable for what we do. Our actions are governed by social and societal norms. Our behavior… our performance… can be measured and will form the basis for how others will evaluate us.

By thinking about problems differently, we open up a whole new range of possible options.

Son, it is never acceptable to hit your brother. Maybe you could gently explain to your brother that you will play with him in a few minutes, or maybe you could include him in your game?

Having more options available to us gives us more opportunities to behave in accordance with our values and principles.

When we decouple our feelings from our actions, we open up a broader palette of possible outcomes… outcomes not predicated by our emotions but based on who we choose to be as human beings.

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Comments (3)

  1. Melissa

    I’m constantly amazed at how often grown adults will act–in the professional arena–in ways I wouldn’t accept coming from my kids. I understand stress and pressure, but, yeah, amazed. In the not good way…

  2. Mike Cottmeyer

    I started thinking over the holidays about what drives our behavior.

    It dawned on me how many people I work with, or have worked with, equate their feelings with their actions. As if their feelings entitle them to act in a certain way.

    When someone makes that direct link between feelings and behavior, and then you give them feedback on their behavior, they are more inclined to take it personally… as if you were slighting them as a person.

    The problem persists in families and businesses. Thanks for reading my blog.


  3. Rick Austin

    We are emotional beings. It is our ability to recognize our feelings, understand their impact upon our actions, and control them that allow us to succeed. Emotions can cause us to react quickly before our thinking mind can assess the situation. Our thoughtless reactions generally have consequences and we should strive to reflect upon those so that we can be in a better position to control our reactions in the future.


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