Sometimes it is not easy for us to talk about our own feelings. Perhaps because we are missing clarity about what is “bothering us”, perhaps because we are afraid of showing vulnerablility. But when we finally open up, we wish for a communication partner with whom we feel in good hands.
Are you such a partnter?
The following article was penned by my dear friend and business partner Fernando Cuevas, and beautifully describes the not-so-helpful patterns we sometimes fall into in conversations where someone opens up on how he or she is doing.
Do you recognise yourself?
Author: Fernando Cuevas
1. Don’t assume they’re asking for advice – The most common mistake I have fallen victim to (in more ways than one) is going into ‘troubleshoot mode” and started a ping-pong match where one serves up a list of possible solutions, and the other one responds with objections of why they wouldn’t work. As a rule of thumb, my suggestion is that unless you hear a statement that clearly resembles something like “What would you do in my situation?” resist the temptation to give advice and focus on validating their emotions and listening to them. (See learning #3) Once you understand that, regardless of your relationship to the other person, your role is not to fix the problem or get rid of the emotions, but only to show your empathy and accompany them through the process, having conversations about emotions might not feel like such a daunting task after all.
2. Don’t make it about you – We all experience the same events and the same losses in many different ways, so assuming that what helped us will help others or that what somebody is describing is comparable to our experience is quite risky. So, if you catch yourself saying things like “When this happened to me in 1988…”, “That is exactly how I felt when I thought I had lost my wedding ring” or “Yes, I also feel sad, let me tell you about a nightmare I had about it…” (Comical as they might sound, I have heard versions of these “autobiographical responses”, as Dr. Covey calls them, more times than you would think) Don’t lose focus, keep the conversation around them and their emotions.
3. Validate their emotions – Give people space to feel and verbalize their emotions without interrupting them. Pay attention to your words and your non-verbal language to ensure you’re creating a safe space for them: Don’t tell people not to worry, or how good they have it and how grateful they should be for what they have or promise that everything will be fine- Listen to them and make your best effort not to judge them. Most times staying silent as you listen attentively or rephrasing what they have told are your best options. Save the pep talk for your next conversation.
What have you learned recently about listening to others talk about their emotions?
About Fernando Cuevas
Fernando is a Human Resources and Learning consultant with more than 20 years of business experience. Recently he served as the Sr Director of Learning and Development for Europe, Middle East and Africa for Marriott Hotels.
He is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and experienced coach, and has facilitated leadership and strategic workshops and presented in conferences in Latin America, Europe, Middle East & Asia.
Fernando’s greatest passion is helping teams through team development interventions like team building and discovery experiences and facilitating learning that make a lasting impact.