Don’t answer pure emotions with cold, hard facts. I have to remind myself of this regularly.
Any time we have some expertise in an area, and therefore more data and facts at our disposal than the average person, we can have a hard time effectively communicating the “it seems so obvious” information to people who are under a cloud of stress.
We need to pause and listen before we respond.
Emotional responses aren’t always a sign of irrationality, but they are a sign of a visceral response to something. Confusion, concern, fear – these are all indications that a person is experiencing some form of internal conflict.
What matters to us (as professionals who theoretically can help them) is finding what substitution they are making which is creating their stress.
In the psychology literature, substitution (aka “attribute substitution”) is the act of swapping in something we do understand for something we don’t understand. We have a tendency to do this automatically.
If I ask you to donate to the “save the prairie whales foundation” you’ll likely answer based on your tendencies to donate to any “save the _______ foundations.” Since prairie whales are made up and therefore unfamiliar, the odds are high that you’ll mentally just skip that part to focus on the familiar part of the question.
We’re weird like that. All of us. Automatically.
We should try to look for this chain of events anytime we sense emotionally driven stress: Emotions – confusion – substitution – response.
First, we want to empathize with the emotions and recognize the feelings that led to their confusion.
Second, we want to uncover the substitution. Ask for the story if it’s not obvious. Look for the logic being applied based on their story.
Third, try to replace their logic with a better-informed story. Break out the faulty substitution and offer a more appropriate one.
If we really do have better information and can honestly make them feel better with some education, it’s up to us to take the time to listen and dissect the problem. When done correctly, it can make a huge difference in people’s lives.