Get in the swamp
Snippet from the book
Rules of People
by Richard Templar
Recognize this? Your partner, or someone close to you, tells you they’re upset about something. You listen and then start making suggestions as to how to solve their problem. And in stead of being grateful, they get more upset and now it seems to be partly your fault but you’ve no idea why...
THERE’S SOMETHING ELSE YOU NEED FIRST BEFORE YOU NEED SOLUTIONS
Trust me, it’s not only you this happens to. In fact you have probably experienced this from the other side yourself - you feel upset and your partner (or whoever) keeps offering solutions to your problem and it really winds you up. You don’t know why - clearly they’re trying to help - but it just isn’t helping and you’re starting to regret mentioning it to them at all. So what’s going on?
The fact is, theres something else you need first before you need solutions. If the person who is upset doesn’t recognize this need (and most of us don’t), they wont ask for it. But they’ll still feel frustrated they’re not getting it. Right, so what dies your partner or friend want you to do even before you try to help them?
They want your permission to feel what they’re feeling, that’s what. I know it makes very little sense a lot of the time, but feelings aren’t rational. The thing is, if you go straight into offering solutions, it appears to imply that the other person shouldn’t be upset or angry or worried because look, there’s a solution. But the other person does feel upset or angry or worried, and now on top of their problems you seem to be telling them their feelings are invalid. Thats the hidden subtext (yes, I know that isn’t what you actually meant at all).
The best analogy I know for this is to imagine the other person is stuck in a swamp and you’re standing on the edge. The way to help is not to throw them a rope, but to get into the swamp with them and agree how swampy it is. Then you can hold hands and get out of the swamp together instead of you pulling them out from the edge.
So before you even think about saying, ‘How about...’ or ‘Why don’t you...’ or ‘What if you were to...’, you need to graciously confer your permission to be upset. Just say something like, ‘I’m not surprised you’re angry’, or ‘I’d be really upset in your position’, or ‘No wonder you’re worried’.
Once they know they’re allowed to feel as they do, they can relax and think about solutions for themselves. Which goes to show that often they didn’t actually need help at all, they just wanted feelings validated. I have no idea why so few people recognize this need in themselves, but there it is. So you’ll have to do it for them (and for yourself when the roles are reversed).