Isn’t it great when you see a sale and that something you want has been discounted? I sure like seeing that. But in dealing with people and responding to their concerns, discounting is a mistake. I am reminded of this true story (names have been changed).
I was attending a farewell party a while back for a wonderful couple. Eric had lost his job, and had to relocate for the new position he had finally found. His wife Patty was going to relocate with him.
I greeted Patty at the reception and mentioned that this must be a bittersweet moment. Her husband has a new position, but they have to relocate. The extent of Patty’s distress became clear when she corrected me and said that it was not “bittersweet” but “bitter-bitter”. She was upset about having to make the move, especially since the new location would be much colder than the warm climate she currently enjoyed.
As we were speaking, Max joined us. Seeking to cheer Patty up, Max put on a happy face and pointed out that millions of people live in cold climates and do just fine. Patty repeated her comment about being “bitter” about the move. Max, undeterred, repeated with a happy tone of voice what he said. Patty again said that she was “bitter”, and her tone indicated that she was becoming increasingly upset by Max’s words and his attempt to encourage her.
I said to him, “Max, you meant well, but you discounted her feelings–and discounting hurts.”
To ‘discount’—which is to tell people not to feel what they are feeling—is a major communication mistake. Feelings don’t disappear by being ‘discounted’. They don’t go away just because we tell them to. Max was well-intentioned and likely thought that by telling Patty that she would be just fine her distress would be alleviated. In reality, by ‘discounting’ he only increased her upset because he invalidated her experience.
What Patty needed at that moment was to be listened to empathically, which means to be heard, understood and acknowledged. Even something as simple as “I am sorry things had to work out this way” would have been helpful.
(Of course there are more sophisticated ways to respond empathically. I will write more about them in future Wisdom Nuggets. You can also attend the first two sessions of my Communicating with Compassion tele-course at no charge and learn two valuable skills of how to respond when emotions are present.)
When people are upset about something, ‘discounting’ their experience by telling them not to be upset or not to feel what they are feeling is typically not very helpful. The initial upset doesn’t go away, and the ‘discounting’ only adds an additional layer of pain. A much more skillful approach is to listen, understand, and acknowledge. That is truly supportive of the other. Do this and watch the magic happen!
These exercises can help you master this skill:
- Pay attention to how you respond when people share their concerns with you. Notice if you are telling them not to feel what they are feeling (i.e., ‘discounting’).
- When people share a concern with you, listen with the intent to understand; when appropriate, acknowledge what they are saying. This is empathy, and is a very valuable skill.
- Even if you think that what people are describing is not a cause for upset or concern, remember that for them it might be. Don’t ‘discount’ people’s feelings.
(c) 2012 Copyright Bernard Uzi Weingarten
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