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No. 3 – Technology vs. Feelings

November 3, 2010

Radiation, as part of our natural world, is well understood by health physicists. Much of the American public, however, perceives radiation as mysterious, sinister, and deadly. On the other hand, many of these same people find the world of feelings understandable and preferable. At the same time, the world of feelings is often viewed by health physicists as mysterious, perplexing, frustrating, and not preferable at all. Health physicists often tell me that the working world would be a better place if people would just leave their feelings at home. Many conclude that dealing with feelings is the most stressful part of any job.

How is it that we can understand the complicated world of radiation so well and yet we have such great difficulty with feelings? There are at least two possible reasons. First of all, most of us chose our role in radiation safety because it matches our preference for dealing with challenges amenable to logical analysis based on fundamental principles of science. Most of us have also devoted many years of training and experience to developing our capabilities for dealing with radiation technology. Conversely, most of us have spent little, if any, time learning the language of feelings. Again, this is a matter of preference. If we preferred the world of feelings, we would likely have chosen a different profession, such as counseling, where feelings, values, sentiments, emotions, and personal empathy are important.

Part of our difficulty with feelings is that we are unprepared, by either training or experience, to hear, understand, and respond to the language of feelings. For example, I remember vividly my experience in a men’s group in my church which demonstrated my lack of understanding of feelings. One of the men was seeking assistance on a personal situation. After hearing various responses, the Pastor turned to me and asked what my feelings were on this issue. So, I told him what I thought. He said he wanted to know my feelings not my thoughts. I said, OK, and once again gave him my thoughts. For the third time, he said he just wanted to know my feelings. At that moment, I became aware that I could not answer the question. I had no idea what he was asking for. After all, I gave him my thoughts, what more did he want? When he kept emphasizing feelings, I suddenly realized for the first time that I had no words or vocabulary to respond to the question. All my years of training in technology did not prepare me to answer a simple question about feelings.

Next week we will explore the world and language of feelings.

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4 Comments
  1. jean staton permalink

    I understand your dilemma very well. In this business there seems to be times to turn feelings off and on and this gets confusing. We are so wrapped up in the technical and safety aspect of our business that we tend to throw feelings to the wind.

    • You are right. Many of us technical types seem to believe that the workplace would be better off if people left their feelings at home. Yet, when I ask my students about their greatest day-to-day challenges at work (techical issues or people issues), they always tell me that people issues are the most difficult. Unfortunately, while we may be well prepared for technical issues, we are usually not prepared for dealing with people issues. The services of the Radiation Safety Counseling Institute are intended to provide a helpful resource for dealing with people issues, especially with concerns for radiation. If you have any specific scenarios for which we could help, please feel free to contact me. Wishing you well.

  2. Bryan K. Zidek permalink

    Quite an interesting perception on feelings. What strikes me further as interesting is that within our field we are very much in tune with measurements. Feelings are either impossible or very difficult to measure, as might be attitudes. And herein lies the problem without a solution. Without the ability to measure it we cannot weigh the importance of it. We don’t know whether it is extremely important or relevant or slightly or not at all.

    Maybe with all the technical training that we have received over the years, it might be an enormous benefit, to be trained, to find ways to gauge someone’s feelings or emotions and then be additionally trained on what vocabulary is needed to respond most appropriately.

  3. You have captured the dilemma for technical people attempting to understand the world of feelings. As a technical person myself I have been learning the language of feelings for nearly 40 years and have progressed to perhaps eighth grade level. I am not sure my feeling wife would agree. Actually counselors are trained with tools for assessing the nature and depth of feelings. Anyone can learn those skills by practice. The best tool for hearing and understanding feelins is called Active Listening. This approach is well descibed in several books by Dr. Thomas Gordon (available on Amazon). Essentially the Active Listening approach is to paraphrase the content of a message and the associated feeling (the best that you can). All feelings can be captured by synomyms of the words mad, sad, glad, and afraid. The speaker will then clarify your response if it did not accurately reflect their feeling. Usually two or three iterations will allow you to capture the intended feeling. I like to call Active listening the most powerful tool for effective risk communication.

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