A Magic Question for Emotional Conversations
People hurt. And when people hurt, they turn to you for help.
Ask them what they need.
Do you want reassurance, potential solutions, or my honest feelings?
To provide reassurance, become a parrot. If they say, “I’m afraid of failing my exams”, you should reply, “yeah, exams are super scary”. If they say, “I’m so angry at my boyfriend”, you should reply, “yeah, I’d be angry too”. Don’t inject your opinion. Don’t repeat “uh-huh”. Don’t interrogate. Just listen and repeat. And if they want specific feedback, they’ll ask.
To provide solutions, iterate over “crazy ideas”. Never oversimplify situations. Obvious answers are not obvious when you’re in distress. Acknowledge difficulty.
To provide honest feelings, prefer “I feel” statements over “you are” statements. For example, say “I feel unsupported in our housework” rather than saying “you’re a h*ckin’ slob”. Honesty can hurt, but don’t confuse resentment for honesty. Don’t dig up the past. Just say how you really feel.