Monday, April 26, 2010

Mr. Brightside

(or Ms. Brightside, but I've had that song by The Killers in my head all day)

As I was washing my hands in the ladies' room today, a coworker rushed in, clearly frustrated, and after making sure all stalls were empty, proceeded to vent about the meeting she'd just left. Some change to a product was making her have to redo at least several days' worth of work, and she was understandably miffed. What had really bothered her, though--even more than the extra work--was how the person breaking the news made light of the issue, saying it wasn't a big deal and wouldn't take much time at all. My coworker has a good work ethic, and despite the annoyance of it, would be able to redo the work just fine... but she wanted validation. She wanted understanding. She wanted some empathy.

I was happy to oblige, and told her "that really stinks." No one could accuse me of being a Pollyanna, but in a situation like this, I think that's okay.

Optimism is a good thing. Hope is a very good thing. But sometimes, looking on the bright side isn't helpful. When someone is on the dark side of a situation, sometimes they don't want to see the bright side. They just want to know that it's okay for them to be on the dark side right now.

I once asked a counselor how to respond to someone's constant self-deprication. I had tried repeatedly telling the person how wonderful/smart/attractive/worthy they were, refuting every bad thing they said about themselves, but it never seemed to help. The counselor told me to stop negating everything they said, and just say "I'm sorry you feel that way." In most cases, you're not going to change their mind, just make them dig in deeper. But empathy will go a long way to defusing their pain.

What do you think? When you are upset, do you feel better when someone points out the silver lining, or would you rather they acknowledge the cloud and help you hold your umbrella?

1 comment:

Katie Bug said...

Sometimes I need optimism, and other times I just need understanding.
I know that I personally can drive friends crazy with constantly trying to help them look at the bright side. It's hard for me to know when to edit my commentary to "I'm sorry" and when to point to the silver lining.

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