Overcoming toxic positivity with Susan David (Transcript)

ReThinking with Adam Grant
Overcoming toxic positivity with Susan David
January 23, 2024

[00:00:00] Adam Grant:
Hey everyone, it's Adam Grant. Welcome back to ReThinking, my podcast on the science of what makes us tick. I'm an organizational psychologist, and I'm taking you inside the minds of fascinating people to explore new thoughts and new ways of thinking.

My guest today is psychologist Susan David, an expert on emotional agility. Her popular TED Talk and bestselling book on the subject offer poignant insights and practical tools for getting better at managing our moods and feelings. Susan grew up in South Africa, teaches at Harvard Medical School, co-founded the Institute of Coaching and regularly shares ideas that make me stop and think—and rethink—about emotions.

Hey Susan.

[00:00:56] Susan David:
Hi Adam. So excited to be here today.

[00:00:58] Adam Grant:
Are you excited or are you just saying that because you're an expert in emotional agility?

[00:01:02] Susan David:
I'm genuinely excited. A little bit fearful, a feeling of generosity, various things going on for me.

[00:01:10] Adam Grant:
I wonder what you're afraid of.

[00:01:12] Susan David:
Well, I think that there's always the challenge when one is bringing ideas to the world of wanting to articulate them in a way that is powerful and practical and evidence-based. So that's always where I want my nexus of focus to be.

[00:01:27] Adam Grant:
You have a track record of doing all of the above, so my fear is at a zero.

[00:01:32] Susan David:
Ah. So what are some of the emotions you are experiencing right now?

[00:01:34] Adam Grant:
I'm excited to learn about a bunch of things that I am puzzled by. I'm curious about some things that I know you'll have clarity on, and I am, I'm looking forward to debating a couple things, too, that I think we have common values, but different perspectives on.

[00:01:53] Susan David:
Yeah, let's do it.

[00:01:53] Adam Grant:
I think emotional skills are often denigrated. We call them soft skills. What's the problem with that?

[00:02:02] Susan David:
Well, you are absolutely correct. There's a long history of emotions being seen as soft skills, as pushed to the sidelines, and we see this history of emotions actually arising historically, even dating back to Victorian times where what was bought into our educational system were aspects like mathematics and the hard sciences, and those were traditionally offered to men.

And then what was not seen as being something that was taught and that became associated with a feminization were emotional skills and emotional capacities, amongst other things.

And I think that the impact of this is far reaching. Firstly, this is a skillset that can be learned, and yet one of the greatest tragedies is that it is not taught in a rigorous way in schools. Uh, secondly, it's impacted on our wellbeing in society at large, because these are skills that interface with a changing world. And if we do not have the ability to navigate the emotions that come up for us, we are gonna struggle to adapt and to have the kind of flexibility we need.

[00:03:22] Adam Grant:
You and I are both passionate about emotion regulation as a vital skill. I think a lot of people struggle with regulating the kind of fear or anxiety that you just described a moment ago. With sadness, with anger, with grief. What do we know about the ineffective strategies for managing unpleasant emotions?

[00:03:41] Susan David:
Well, let's step back a little bit because part of the denigration of emotions has been the idea that flows through all of psychology and into society at large, which is that some emotions are good and some emotions are bad. Some emotions are so-called “positive” and some emotions are so-called “negative”.

And when you come to a categorization of emotions with an inherent judgment about those emotions, what it can lead to is default strategies that are ineffective. So for example, if you've grown up in a family in which when you're sad, you have a parent who, with wonderful intentions, says something to you like, "I know you are said, but I-I’ll bake cupcakes with you and everything will be fine.” What the parent might be communicating is that sadness is to be feared. And instead what we do is we need to be so-called “happy”. And what this leads to is very often a lifetime of not navigating—navigating our emotions in ways that are effective.

So two of the most common ineffective strategies that I find when it comes to emotion regulation are firstly, emotion suppression. Emotion suppression is where you have this idea that I'm feeling sad but I shouldn't be sad because a lot of people have it worse than me, or I should just be grateful. And so what we do is bottling those emotions. And often we do this with really good intentions because we try to get through our day. We try to problem solve about the thing in front of us, but what we know is that a default tendency to view these emotions as bad, and therefore to suppress or push them aside, has a real impact on our long-term wellbeing.

It has an impact on our ability to develop the skills that help us to deal with the world as it actually is, not as we wish it to be, but it actually is, which is a world that is fragile in which our hearts will be broken, and in which things aren't gonna go in the way that we always want. We also know that when people have a default tendency to suppress difficult emotions, it impacts on their relationships.

So, Adam, you asked what are the, what are the typical ones that I see, the one is the suppression. Uh, a lot of people do the opposite, so a lot of people with very, very good intentions, they start brooding on their emotions. They start ruminating on their emotions. Why am I feeling what I'm feeling? This is terrible. This is awful. And when we do this, there's no space between us and our response. And you’re so consumed by the difficulty emotion that you are not actually present to the context that is right in front of you and able to deal with it effectively.

And then what we can sometimes do with our brooding of difficult emotions is we co-brood. So we get together with our best friend, or we connect with a whole lot of people on social media, our echo chamber, and we all talk about how things are terrible. But what we are not doing is we are not moving towards understanding those emotions with greater levels of dimensionality, and we aren't thinking about who we wanna be in the world and how we wanna bring ourselves with wisdom to the world.

[00:07:05] Adam Grant:
This reminds me of the research by Maya Tamir and colleagues, where they show that when you have unpleasant emotions, if you judge them negatively, that actually predicts having worse wellbeing than if you just accept them as a normal part of life and say, “This feels bad. It doesn't necessarily mean it's bad for me.”

And I, I remember first reading that research and thinking, at heart, I’m a functional theorist when it comes to emotions. I think an emotion may be unpleasant, but it can still serve a purpose. And for me, that purpose is often that it's a teachable moment. So when I feel regret, I try to look at that as a, a seminar on making a wiser decision next time. When I feel guilty, I think, “Alright, that's a class on doing the right thing.” When I'm bored, alright, I’m gonna get a lesson here on where my intrinsic motivation doesn't lie and, and how I might be able to find flow in the future. If I'm disappointed, I’ve just gotten a tutorial on how to prepare better or persevere more effectively, and in the rare circumstances where I get angry, I feel like I've just gone through a crash course on learning to set boundaries and stand up for myself.

[00:08:11] Susan David:
Mm-hm. Mm-hm.

[00:08:13] Adam Grant:
That idea of emotions as teachable moments for me is an alternative to the judgment that would lead me to either suppress or ruminate. I guess, how do you react to that as a strategy, and w-what would you advise doing differently?

[00:08:26] Susan David:
So I think that's a really important strategy. A core part of my work is this movement beyond the idea that emotions are good or bad, and really a movement towards, uh, compassion, curiosity, and acceptance.

Because when we bring a level of compassion to ourselves, that allows us to be gentle with ourselves rather than judgmental. When we bring a level of curiosity, we are saying, “I'm experiencing this difficult emotion,” but tough emotions signposts our needs and our values. And so what you’re describing when you talk about a teachable moment is that these tough emotions are signposting. There's something that we care about here. There's a value that's being abrogated or something that is really important to us that is hindering us.

[00:09:15] Adam Grant:
You know, when we talk about the idea that emotions are not necessarily inherently good or bad, this, this makes me think immediately of your profound work on forced positivity. Talk to me about that and sort of the problems that you've seen with the pressure to always be in a good mood and what, what that says about people, about our culture, and what we should be doing instead.

[00:09:39] Susan David:
When I was in my teens, my father who was 42 at the time, died of, uh, colon cancer. And I, I remember him dying on a Friday, going to school on the Monday because my mom wanted to keep things normal, and she was in her own grief. And I remember going to school and the entire class, for months, after that avoided talking about fathers in my presence because there was this idea that it would somehow make me upset. So, I started to experience a massive avoidance around difficult emotions, and when people started to say to me, “How are you doing?” I would say, “I'm doing fine.” I was praised for being strong. I didn't drop a single grade, and I almost started to believe that the world really valued the idea of me being positive as a proxy for me coping well.

Whereas Adam, in truth, I was 15 years old grieving my dad. I became bulimic. I was unable to bear the weight of my grief. My mother was raising three children. The creditors were knocking. But every day, I would go to school and I would have the smile on my face. And one day there was a teacher who handed out these blank notebooks to the class and she said, “Write. Tell the truth. Write like no one is reading.” And it was the most extraordinary invitation by this individual who instead of saying, “Just be positive, everyone's gotta be positive, good vibes only," was someone who was saying, you know, “I see you. I know that that's not your emotional truth.”

She knew what I was going through, and she invited me into this correspondence. And so, I started to experience the profound healing and resilience that came through moving to difficult emotions. So, this is why I speak so passionately about this idea.

I mean, I could talk about other experiences of, so-called, “toxic positivity”. I think the word toxic is often overused. I call it the tyranny of positivity. This is at its core an avoidant coping strategy. It is avoidant of the reality that is in front of you, and the same is experienced when we in our day-to-day lives live in a culture that tells us good vibes only. Just be positive. This is not making us more resilient. This is not helping us to have tough conversations, to understand shared values. When we avoid difficult emotions, we stay in a world of sometimes lack of wisdom and a lack of learning because we are unable to go to the discomfort of a real challenging conversation. When we tell people just to be positive, what we are actually saying to them is my comfort is more important than your reality.

[00:13:09] Adam Grant:
That is so powerful and so profound. It sounds like that's what your classmates were doing to you when you were a teenager.

[00:13:17] Susan David:
That’s, that’s what my classmates were doing to me. That's what people were doing to my father when he was dying, where they said to him, "If you just have faith that you will be okay, if you just think positive, then you'll be fine.” And if thinking positive cured cancer, the world would be a very different place. Now, that doesn't mean that our attitudes don't matter.

It doesn't mean that we can't be optimistic. And one of the things that I talk about very often in my work is the difference between forced false positivity versus optimism. Optimism is born of a willingness to show up to the reality. It is born of a belief that the future can be better, but optimism is also born of a willingness to put in the work to create that future versus just a forced false “just be positive” mantra.

[00:14:19] Adam Grant:
I read some evidence recently that speaks to this. It was a meta-analysis, 60-some studies, couple hundred thousand people looking at the relationship between pessimism and optimism, and health and wellbeing, and showing that, if you look at the spectrum, and I, I think this really reinforces your point. If you look at the spectrum from pessimism to optimism, the relationship between those beliefs and attitudes and your health and wellbeing is very small. So we shouldn't overstate it, but also, health is predicted better by the absence of pessimism than the presence of optim-optimism. In other words, not being pessimistic was, was more important than being extremely optimistic.

And what I took away from that evidence was, huh, you don't always have to look on the bright side, but you do want to be shielded from the dark side because at, at some point, if you are always expecting the worst, then you may not do some of the things that are health-promoting. Um, you become fatalistic.
[00:15:20] Susan David:
Yes. This connects a lot with, uh, Becca Levy's work on these kind of self stereotypes that—

[00:15:26] Adam Grant:
On aging.

[00:15:26] Susan David:
Yeah. That we have on aging. If you think that things are gonna get worse as you age, that pessimism, then you probably aren't gonna take care of yourself. If you believe that something is inevitable, then you aren't gonna be taking the steps that actually lead or could lead to a different outcome. So I think that's a really, really important, uh, synergy between these pieces of work.

[00:15:49] Adam Grant:
So can I, can I then, instead of defining myself as a pessimist or an optimist, can I just say I'm a non-pessimist? Is that fair?

[00:15:56] Susan David:
I love it. Yes. Let's do that. Ha! I’m also a non pessimist. Yes.

[00:16:01] Adam Grant:
Yeah. I like that better than realist because I, I feel like whenever people say, “I'm not an optimist or a pessimist, I'm a realist,” they’re saying, “Look, I see the world objectively.” No. We, we all had have flawed views of the world. We all have filters. Some of them are rose-colored, some of them are dark. But at the end of the day, a-avoiding pessimism to me seems to be, uh, a great way to avoid a self-fulfilling prophecy or a vicious cycle.

[00:16:26] Susan David:
Yes. Yes. I love that.

[00:16:32] Adam Grant:
Let's, let's do the lightning round. What's a belief about emotions that you've rethought in the last few years?

[00:16:39] Susan David:
This idea that, that we have this absolute inbuilt experience around anger. That is universal across cultures. That's something that I'm rethinking a little bit around emotions.

[00:16:53] Adam Grant:
Gi—given that you've highlighted that there's often value in learning from negative emotions or unpleasant emotions, what do you think is the most underrated, unpleasant emotion that people dismiss or ignore or suppress too much but actually deserves more attention?

[00:17:07] Susan David:
I think guilt; it's easy to talk about anger. It's easy to talk about some of these in your face kind of emotions, but I think guilt, it's often a very subtle cue that there's dissonance between yourself and your values. And we, we can have guilt in the world around us, but we can also have guilt towards ourselves about our feelings and, and I often think that one way to navigate this is this idea of continuity of the self. That all of us have a little five-year-old, and that five-year-old is tapping you on the heart and is saying, “See me. See me, see me.” What is the five-year-old telling you about these subtle needs where you might feel guilty? And then also, when we think about an aged version of ourselves, you know, someone who's 10 or 15 or 20 or 30 years older, what is that older version of yourself advising you to do?

And I think that, that often what that allows us to connect with is experiences of guilt and dissonance around ourselves, our needs, and our values in ways that have a broad perspective and allow us to step forward more productively.

[00:18:30] Adam Grant:
That's so interesting you say that guilt is, is also my top pick. Guilt has so many pro-social effects.

[00:18:35] Susan David:

[00:18:35] Adam Grant:
It leads us to right wrongs, it leads us to reach out to help other people. And I think to your point, it's not only a signal that we might've let someone we care about down, sometimes it tells us we're letting ourselves down.

[00:18:47] Susan David:
Yes, yes. Guilt is one of the most powerful emotions of social experience and social connection. It's, it's what keeps us grounded in a sense of moral clarity.

[00:19:04] Adam Grant:
I remember, years ago, Amy Wrzesniewski and I were, were doing some research on overconfidence and the risk that when you have very high self-esteem and self-efficacy, that you get complacent. And we found that that was only true for people who didn't anticipate a lot of guilt, and that, that people who did worry a lot about letting others down, they were less prone to the risks of overconfidence and they actually stepped up to contribute more, which, which I thought was, you know, kind of encouraging.

[00:19:29] Susan David:
Yeah. It's such a fascinating subtlety about this. Again, I feel like such a nerd when I talk about, oh, you know, I can wax lyrical about guilt for 10 minutes, but, but it is such an important emotion.

[00:19:41] Adam Grant:
Well, you’ve come to the right place. Psychology nerds unite here on ReThinking. Uh, okay. What is a favorite emotion word you have in another language that doesn't exist in English?

[00:19:51] Susan David:
Ooh, I'm gonna give you two very quick ones. The first is the word skaam. S-K-A-A-M. It's a, it's an Afrikaans word, and it's a very beautiful word because skaam is a combination of being embarrassed, but in a very sheepish way. So there's, there's a, there's a very particular nuance around the word skaam. It's like I'm embarrassed, but it's not a big red faced embarrassment. There's something very sheepish about it.

And then the other word that I love, which is the word that my husband created just for me, is he says to me that I indignate as a verb, and [laughter]. Indignating is when you step into indignation, and you know how we talk about love being a verb? He used to say to me, "You're indignating”, meaning that I was stuck in my indignation and was unable to move beyond it.

[00:20:55] Adam Grant:
What’s a question you have for me?

[00:20:57] Susan David:
What is an emotion that you've been experiencing more of of late, and what is that signposting for you?

[00:21:08] Adam Grant:
It's definitely empathic distress. I, I just wrote an article about it, what used to get called compassion fatigue. The sense that, you know, it, it was supposed to be, it hurts to, to be exposed to people who are hurting. Well, no, as you know, Susan, it's actually seeing other people hurting, but feeling unable to help. And I felt more of that helplessness over the past few months than, than probably certainly since the early days of the pandemic. But maybe even before that. I think it just seems like there are so many terrible things happening in the world.

[00:21:41] Susan David:

[00:21:41] Adam Grant:
And it's beyond my power to be able to stop them or change them or help the, all the people I care about through them. And that's been really hard as somebody who cares a lot about, um, about being helpful and caring for people in my life. Uh, that's definitely been the, the emotion that I've been grappling with the most is I wish I could do more.

[00:22:01] Susan David:
I think so many people experiencing in different ways with everything going on in the world, this, like, just profound sense of distance between what one wants to do and what one can do, and I think it's such a powerful exploration. I often get asked this, this question in relation to when we think about emotion regulation, and we think about empathy and compassion, how we can actually protect ourselves. I think it's really important.
[00:22:36] Adam Grant:
Are you gonna tell me how, ‘cause I could definitely use your expert advice. What do I do, Susan David?

[00:22:43] Susan David:
Well, so… [laughter] Well, I'm not gonna give you advice, but what I am gonna say is this, that often when people talk about compassion fatigue. They often are asking the question in relation to the fact that they're experiencing a lot of empathy or compassion, and they are also starting to experience burnout and low levels of wellbeing.

And so the question is often, well, “How can I navigate this effectively?” So what people are often doing is they're trying to turn the dial on their empathy or their compassion in order to protect their wellbeing. They try to suppress those things in themselves, or they create distance. And actually what we know is when you do this, you actually exacerbate the likelihood that you will have burnout because what you're doing is you're becoming more and more disconnected from other people, more and more disconnected from your values, and we, as human beings, actually have a generative social life force that happens through connection with others. So when we turn the dial down on our empathy and compassion, not only are we robbing the world of something that it needs, but we’re actually robbing ourselves of the ability to move forward in ways that are values congruent.

And emotion regulation is around, for example, asking ourselves things like, “What is in my sphere of influence and what isn't? Are there boundaries that I can be putting in place that will help me to navigate the situation more effectively?” We can ask questions like I'm saying that I'm angry at the world because I feel so compassionate, but what am I feeling beyond anger? You know, what is the nuance of what's actually going on? And when we have greater levels of granularity around our emotions and we feel disappointed or we feel unsupported, as an example, instead of anger, what it actually does is it allows us to move forward and get the kind of help and support that we need.

You can have, on the one hand, very high levels of empathy and compassion. And you can simultaneously have very high levels of emotion regulation, and these emotion regulation capacities, and you will be protected in your wellbeing and you will be protected from burnout.

[00:25:16] Adam Grant:
Well, that definitely resonates. It helps to explain why one of the most helpful things that I've done for my own sense and my helpfulness in the last few months is to think about where can I make a unique contribution.

[00:25:28] Susan David:
It’s beautiful.

[00:25:28] Adam Grant:
In other words, are there, are there people that others aren't helping where I can add value or do I have knowledge and expertise as a psychologist that might help people make sense of these feelings? And that, that's actually why I wrote about it.

[00:25:41] Susan David:
What people are often doing when they experience empathic distress is they actually have this flattened nuance, and they're going online and they are almost channeling the empathic distress in ways that don't help the world. And so I think this powerful idea of thinking about “Where is my voice helpful? How can I make a unique contribution?” And I think the most important question that every single one of us needs to be asking ourselves right now is: who do I wanna be? Even in the midst of this challenge, and even in the midst of the social contagion that happens when we are experiencing challenges, who do I want to be?

[00:26:35] Adam Grant:
I wanna come back to your tendency to indignate, [laughter] as you described it.

[00:26:42] Susan David:
Do it.

[00:26:42] Adam Grant:
And I'm, I'm, by the way, I'm not accusing you of this, Susan, but I think that often when people become angry or righteousny, righteously, indignant toward others, uh, one of the things I hear them say is, “You made me feel.”

[00:26:58] Susan David:

[00:26:58] Adam Grant:
Like, “You made me feel angry.” Like, “You made me feel upset.”

[00:27:03] Susan David:

[00:27:03] Adam Grant:
“You made me feel outraged,” and I have an issue with the phrase “You made me feel.”

[00:27:10] Susan David:
Are you indignating about the issue or do you just have an issue?

[00:27:12] Adam Grant:
I am. You know what? I don't judge emotions, but I do judge the way that people give up agency over their emotions.

[00:27:19] Susan David:

[00:27:19] Adam Grant:
I posted about this not too long ago and I said, “A sign of emotional intelligence is abandoning the phrase ‘You made me feel’.” Because you're giving other people power over your emotions. No one can make me feel anything, to take the line misattributed to Viktor Frankl.

[00:27:37] Susan David:

[00:27:38] Adam Grant:
There is a space between stimulus and response. You control your behavior, but I choose my reactions was, was my reaction, and I got a lot of love for this and some very intense hate. Of course, I'm not talking about abusive relationships here. If you're being, you know, gaslit by a manipulative narcissist, uh, that, that, that is not what we're describing. I'm saying in an everyday friendship or romantic relationship or professional collaboration, you shouldn't blame your ordinary feelings on other people. What do you think of the idea of blaming, huh, other people for our emotions?

[00:28:13] Susan David:
[laughter] Of course, people influence how we feel, of course they do. Now because I feel something, does that mean that I now get to blame you for my response? “You made me feel” is one of the most disempowering ways that we can be in the world. Essentially what it's saying is that I am simply a constant victim of how other people feel, but at the same time, the idea that people don't influence how we feel is to deny the reality that context and others do impact on us, and in a, in a paradoxical way, saying that I am 100% responsible for every single thing that I feel is also actually disempowering. Because what it does is it denies the reality that we are human beings in relation to others.

[00:29:29] Adam Grant:
I love the way that you characterize that, and I guess it leads me to a couple reactions. I, I think about my, my initial emotional reaction to somebody's behavior as a rough draft. Like if I were an artist, I would not frame that, I would keep revising it until—

[00:29:43] Susan David:

[00:29:43] Adam Grant:
I’m at the place that I, I would like to land, and I'm afraid that people are less likely to do that revision when they claim that somebody else just caused their emotion as opposed to contributing to it.

[00:29:55] Susan David:
Uh, yes. I love that. I love that. And, and I, and I think about what are some practical strategies when people are indignating or when they are fused with their emotion, like how they, how can they start getting that space? If we think about the language that we use, when we say, “I am,” I am sad. I am angry. I am being undermined. What are you doing? You are showing complete linguistic fusion between yourself and your emotion.

[00:30:25] Adam Grant:

[00:30:25] Susan David:
I am sad. It's almost as if, you know, the sadness is a cloud, and you have become the cloud. There's no space for values or wisdom or who I wanna be, and a good way of, of creating space linguistically is think about this.

Instead of “I am sad”, “I'm noticing that I'm feeling sad”. When you notice your thoughts, your emotions, and your stories for what they are, they are thoughts, they are emotions, they're stories. They are not fact. What you do is you taking the met of you.

[00:31:02] Adam Grant:

[00:31:03] Susan David:
I am big enough and capacious enough to experience all of these different emotions and choose how I wanna be. So you aren’t the cloud, you are actually the sky. You are the sky. You are big enough to experience all of your emotions and choose who you wanna be.

[00:31:23] Adam Grant:
The English language is really impoverished when it comes to helping us take this almost Buddhist perspective of just observing our emotions. I remember when I was first learning Spanish thinking it was such an interesting distinction to have a temporary as opposed to a permanent—

[00:31:40] Susan David:

[00:31:40] Adam Grant:
Description of emotions, like to say estar as opposed to ser, to know what I felt. Like the, the literal interpretation was, like, “I am feeling angry right now.” Not “I am angry” and I know in, in other languages it's common sometimes to say like, “Anger is washing over me.”

[00:31:56] Susan David:
Yes. So beautiful!

[00:31:56] Adam Grant:
Uh, which is even better. I mean, even just with hunger in Spanish, like it was tengo hambre—I have hunger, like the, the hunger has visited upon me. It's not something that I'm internalizing as my own, permanently. And that's, I think what you're capturing here.

[00:32:11] Susan David:

[00:32:12] Adam Grant:
I worry a lot about accountability being located in the wrong place. I think that when, when people blame others for their emotions, they're focusing inward on their own mental state as opposed to asking what was it about the other person's actions that was unacceptable, that violated my values, and I think that it's much more reasonable to hold people accountable for their actions than the emotions they caused in me. Because if, if I tell you I don't like the way you make me feel, there’s nothing you can do about that, right? That, that's my feeling. You can't control it. Whereas if I can locate what it is about your behavior that was problematic for me, well, now you can change that.

[00:32:59] Susan David:
It’s, it’s really, really important because it takes away our power in the situation, but it also takes away our learning and our insight and our accountability. And, and, the circling back to the conversation earlier where we were talking about why these skills are so important. We cannot live in a world where transient emotions become definitional. There is a difference between feeling a feeling versus acting and the feeling.

And often what we are doing is we conflating the two. No one and no world is gonna be a better place when we conflate our feelings with our actions. We own our emotions. They don't own us.

[00:33:53] Adam Grant:
It makes me think about the research that Marion Eberly led on relational attributions, where she said so many of us either blame ourselves or blame others. But really when, when there's an unpleasant emotion in an interaction, most of the time it's not you. It's not me, it's us.

[00:34:12] Susan David:
It just is.

[00:34:13] Adam Grant:
Well, Susan, I love your work on emotional agility. I think it reminds us not to treat our emotions as sacrosanct, but also not to dismiss them altogether because they are clues to values.

[00:34:25] Susan David:
I've loved just hearing your take. I know we've been connecting with each other for so long, but we've never actually had the opportunity to really discuss some of these things in more detail, so thank you for allowing my nerd-dom.

[00:34:41] Adam Grant:
I have more nuance now around my objection to the phrase “You made me feel”. You could punch me in the face and think you're gonna make me feel hurt or angry, but I'm gonna have a very different emotional response if you're my friend than if you're my boxing partner. No one controls what you feel, but they do influence what you feel. And it's up to you to decide how you wanna feel about that.

ReThinking is hosted by me, Adam Grant, and produced by TED with Cosmic Standard. Our team includes Colin Helms, Eliza Smith, Jacob Winik, Aja Simpson, Samiah Adams, Michelle Quint, Banban Cheng, Hannah Kingsley-Ma, Julia Dickerson, and Whitney Pennington Rodgers. This episode was produced and mixed by Cosmic Standard.

Our fact checker is Paul Durbin. Original music by Hansdale Hsu and Allison Leyton-Brown.

[00:35:33] Susan David:
And so when we look at these difficult emotions and we say, “What is this emotion signposting?” And I, I often use this shortcut, which is, you know how in social media people often say WTF, uh, the language that I use around this is “What the func?” FUNC. In other words, what is the function of this emotion? What is it signposting to me? What is it telling me about what's important?

[00:36:01] Adam Grant:
That’s a great way to, to reinterpret, uh, the expletive that wants to, to take over, um, and hijack the, the event.