When a friend shares with you that they’re struggling, what’s your natural response?
Do you try to put a positive spin on things? And perhaps offer what you see as potential solutions (even if they haven’t asked for advice)?
Or do you try to empathize with how they’re feeling?
I got thinking about this recently because a blogging friend recently shared an online conversation she’d had with someone that hadn’t gone well.
It started off with the other person disclosing he had difficulty with X because of health condition Y. She then told him that she thought she could help him overcome the problems with X. That did not go over well. She then came out with a series of “look on the bright side” type statements minimizing difficulty X and its impact.
She wondered why she had no further contact with him afterwards, but I sure as hell would have been running for the hills if that had been our first conversation.
It reminded me of something I’ve come to realize recently’ there are two broad types of communication patterns in this type of situation —a make-it-better approach, and a validate-the-pain approach. A mismatch between the two can cause some unintended problems, even when both parties are well-meaning.
My friend is a make-it-better type, and the person she was talking to was clearly a validate type. Her make-it-better made him feel invalidated, and she couldn’t see why because she had very good intentions.
My significant person, for lack of a clearer term, is also a make-it-better type. Growing up, his dad emphasized an 80/20 rule — only 20% of the time should be spent talking about a problem, and the other 80% should be spent fixing it.
This has been a problem — repeatedly. I am very much a validate-the-pain type. I need to have my time to be emotional before the emotions settle down and I can start looking at solutions. In the meantime, I want to hear that it’s okay to not be okay.
Because I’m not that mentally well contained, I get upset every so often. He tries to put the problem in the past and say everything is okay. I then feel totally invalidated, as if what’s upsetting me just isn’t important.
We’ve talked about this in calmer moments, and even though we both think the other’s reactions totally defy logic, we’re working on recognizing our natural responses and trying to shift them a bit.
Communication isn’t easy. Different styles of communicating and reacting can cause a lot of unintended hurt. But having the vulnerability to dig deeper can yield some good insights, and in that direction lies growth.