Here is a technique that I’ve utilized often times in helping couples, families and even individuals in situations where they are dealing with other parties and they don’t understand why the conversations always seem to end poorly.
Have you ever had one of those moments where you come home, you’ve had an emotional day at work, there’s something that’s on your mind, and then you tell your friend, your spouse, your child, whomever, about your day and they immediately launch into trying to help you fix it, to come up with a solution, to problem solve?
How does that land for you? Typically, not well.
While the intent is generally a good one, when someone responds with a “fix it” mentality, its easy to miss a key piece of information which leaves one, if not both, feeling like one wasn’t quite heard or validated. Often all the individual was looking for was just a simple validation like ‘Wow, that was a pretty tough day. I don’t know if I would’ve done any better,'” kind of a phrase.”
The right brain to right brain approach is simply responding to a person’s emotional statement in such a way that you’re letting them understand that you have some idea of what’s going on in this current emotional state. It also sets the stage for the person to help set their thoughts in order, therefor reducing the level of chaos being experienced.
The reason we try to fix it is that the left side of the brain and the prefrontal cortex automatically do what it does best: trying to solve a problem. Often, a left-brain response is exactly what is needed. “Hey, we’ve got a problem.” is usually followed up with “Okay, what about this?” which then proceeds to coming up with a solution, especially in the professional world. But when somebody comes in, especially somebody that’s close to you, they’re not necessarily looking for a solution. They’ve probably already gone through a list of solutions in their mind and all you’re doing is reiterating things that they’ve already thought of. This often leaves them feeling like you think they cannot handle it and with thoughts like “What do you think, I’m stupid?”
This is a common response I hear in couples counseling or in working with a child and parent. The child already had an idea of what they wanted to do. The parents reiterated it and the child’s like, “Well, no duh, I already figured that out but I still feel this way. What do I do about feeling this way?” The best thing we can do for somebody in that case is simply just to reach out and say, “Yeah. Yeah, it sounds like you had a really tough day.” Allow a moment for the person to put their thoughts in order. Once this is accomplished, it might lead to a problem solving session. Though it may not since they already know what they have to do, just just needed to validate their feelings first.
Here is another example. My wife comes home, she’s talking about XYZ at work. She’s talking about how she felt it was unfair, or it was overwhelming, or there’s too much work, or whatever the problem had to be. My first response is typically, “Wow, that sucks. It sounds like you’ve had one heck of a day.” To which she replies, “Yeah, it was terrible. I couldn’t believe that this happened.”
Then, I might start to tease into a left brain, “Well, have you thought of any possible ways you might move?” Because what I really want to know is has there been any thought behind this at all or is this fresh? Is it just emotions that are just churning away in the background? Then, if the conversation opens, if the person feels like they’ve been heard, they might be open to exploring some of the ideas on their mind and then that would be the time to suggest other things they may have missed. What does this sound like? Does it sound like this might be something that’d be useful for you? Does this sound like something that you would like to have happen when you’re in one of these states?
Maybe you’re not a person who typically has these type of moments. You’re not connecting to this all. That’s fine, because there are some people, based upon personality traits, who will have a less of a reactive state. (or at least are unaware) If so, you may have a difficult time understanding somebody who does react this way, but it is how they are wired.
So, consider that but understand that this technique, whether you relate to it or not, does work. I’ve seen it work. I’ve utilized it myself. I’ve had it done with me. I’ve utilized this in countless families. When they can do this, when they can actually begin to relate right brain to right brain, it almost always goes in a good direction. They’re able to be more open, to be completely present. Then just allowing the person to have that space allows them to open up and start a deeper conversation which may lead to problem-solving or at least will help them feel validated, solid, and secure so that they can make the decision that they’ve been thinking about on their own.
Now, if you’ve missed it, one of my past videos actually goes into the pause technique, and these two particular techniques pair very well together. So, if you have a moment, you might want to take a look at that video as well. In the meantime, don’t take my word on this. Get out there and experiment with this yourself.
Next time somebody is giving you something that looks like it’s emotionally charged, see if you can recognize the emotion, describe it back to them, and let them know how you would feel if you were in that situation. See where it goes from there, because once again, what do you have to lose?