Tuesday, February 8, 2011

empathize, don't fix

So, so, so true: empathizing with someone's sadness or frustration makes then feel better than trying to fix the problem or convince them that it's not as bad as they think it is. Unsolicited advice is almost never welcome in the heat of the unhappy moment.

In cases where the fixer has absolutely no stake in the dilemma, girls instinctively know that commiseration is the way to make things better. Most guys don't seem to understand this until the 3000th fight with their girlfriend where their unhelpful reaction was the root cause. Even then many don't, because the superficial cause is vastly more salient, and if their instincts, and logic, says to fix, experimentation never reveals the better alternative.

In situations with any minute point of contention, even the vaguest annoyance that the fixee's reaction is overly dramatic, that useful skill of empathy goes so far out the window we don't even remember it exists. That's true for men and women alike, and it only makes things worse for both parties.

I don't think this applies, though, when upset person is not sad or frustrated, but frantically freaking out or panicking. Calming down is the priority then and outside honest perspective/direction is useful.

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