I hope you saw the recent news reports about the emotional toll that the past years have taken on our children. For about a year I’ve been first whispering, then saying, and now shouting that we are in the midst of a second pandemic - a mental health one - and the victims are our children.
I’m definitely not a therapist, yet I am a coach and a mom of three amazing children. As all people are, my children are so multifaceted it is blinding. For each of them last year ranged from really tough to devastating because of a variety of increased emotional challenges.
So what does we do when someone is struggling? I know my first instinct was to fix it and make it go away.
That doesn’t work in parenting, management or relationships.
What does work - for both children and adults? Let’s dive in.
Two Do’s and One Don’t
Let’s start with what we don’t want to do when someone is highly emotional. It is going to sound so counterintuitive that you might not believe me, but believe me!
Does this sound familiar?
Don’t worry about it.
It’s going to be ok.
It’s not so bad.
There is nothing to be afraid of.
This is what I used to think good parents said when their kids were upset. It feels comforting and kind, right? Yet if someone is feeling scared or angry or sad and you jump to reassure them, it not only devalues their feelings, but it puts you in charge and takes ownership of the emotional situation away from them. It makes external reassurance necessary to release the internal anxiety or emotion.
So what are we supposed to do?
The skills I'd like to offer are called acknowledging and validating.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels
Magic Skills: Acknowledging & Validating
We can show we are really listening and interested in what someone has said by using the skill of acknowledging. It may feel uncomfortable at first, because acknowledging is really just mirroring back what the person said without adding your own two cents. Here are some handy starters to get you going when you are practicing acknowledgement (shout out to IPEC for this list):
What you’re saying is . . .
So when you ______, _______ happens.
Let me see if I get this. . .
I’m hearing you say . . .
Let me give that back to you so we can make sure I got it.
You will usually get one of two responses when you acknowledge.
The first is a relieved “yes, you understand me”.
The second is “no, that’s not quite it, this is really what I meant”.
Bonus points if you guess what to do with the second response. . .
That’s right - acknowledge again!
What About That Second Skill?
When big emotions are present and you’ve acknowledged what the person said, the next tool to try is validation. Validation is not agreeing or disagreeing with the person, it is letting them know that you can see the situation from their point of view.
Validating is empathy in action.
So how do you validate? Here are some more starters from IPEC for your practice:
It’s understandable that you feel that way because . . .
You have every right to feel “X” because . . .
That’s perfectly natural. It can be very upsetting when “X” happens.
Based on your values (or the way you saw/experienced “Y” situation), it’s not surprising you’d feel “X”
If you’ve fully acknowledged and validated when big emotions arise, the energy should shift and the emotions should calm down a bit. When you get to this space, a great way to close up the conversation is to ask the person something like this:
How are you feeling now?
How do you want to move forward?
What do you need from me?
Photo by Sebastián León Prado on Unsplash
How Do You Want To Move Forward?
Give acknowledging and validating a try this month. You may find yourself a pro or you may, like me, keep needing to practice. I often go back to folks and say, “I’m sorry. I jumped in and tried to fix that. I’m practicing not doing that. Can I try again?”.
What I’ve learned from practicing these skills in my family and my coaching practice is that when big emotions arise we don’t want them to be fixed or amplified. We really want to be understood and empathized with.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to create a life where emotions weren’t good or bad, yet just what we were experiencing at that moment?
If you're interested in improving how you lead people big and small this year, keep me in mind as a coach. In the meantime, keep finding ways to practice where it makes sense for you and I look forward to staying connected.