1.) Do not look for inconsistencies in the story line.
■ This will make our partner feel as though they need to edit their words in their head and doing so with impact their ability to authentically express themselves. This also creates a dynamic where the facts are given far more importance than they deserve. The emotional expression is more important.
2.) Do not respond with explanations as to why they are wrong (and we are right). Do not try argue our partner out of their emotional experience.
■ Being an empathetic listener allows our partner to heal by allowing a space for an emotion to be expressed and understood. Being right is irrelevant. Our partner feels the way they feel. It is irrational and unhelpful to suggest that they should feel or perceive differently. To do so implies that perceptions and emotions are objective and consistent (which is not true).
3.) Do not offer them an alternative way to perceive the situation. Do not offer forced or contrived optimism.
■ This belittles their subjective experience and is generally both annoying and aggravating. An ability to vent their experience to foster acceptance is the goal. We can help them by listening and reflecting their experience. People do not find it helpful to be forced towards a new perspective, instead they prefer the safety of a nonjudgmental ear. Forced optimism is different than authentic encouragement. Gently saying that we are there for them or that we will support them, is perfectly fine.
4.) Do not respond with defensiveness.
■ When we defend, we put the attention on ourself, which is rather selfish. Doing so tells the listener that our own emotional reaction is more important than their feelings. When we are defensive, we are focusing attention and energy on ourself as opposed to offering support and understanding to our partner.
5.) Do not use tangents to change the subject.
■ Allow the focus to stay on them. Bringing up other issues will confuse the interaction and will distract them from getting their needs met. As the listener, our job is to listen. At some other time, we can have the space to be the speaker.
6.) Do not be belittling, sarcastic, or mean. Do not use verbal aggression to attempt to steal power from the speaker.
■ Even as adults, we may find ourselves engaging in rather immature behaviors. Being mean is a poor way of saying, “I am overwhelmed by what you are saying and feel the need to attack you to get you to stop.” Asking for space is perfectly appropriate if we need a bit of time to be fully available for our partner.