If someone tells you about a problem they are facing, think about your response before responding.
Your husband tells you he is disgusted with his job. The people he works with are idiots. You immediately respond, “Why don’t you tell the boss what you’re up against; how they don’t pull their weight?”
Now your husband has two problems. He still is disenchanted with his job. And he has to fend off your knee-jerk suggestion of talking to the boss.
Your wife says, “What a great day. Let’s pack a picnic basket and take the girls to the park.”
Your knee-jerk response: “I don’t think so. That doesn’t sound good to me.”
Your wife says, “Oh, come on. It’ll be fun.”
You again say no.
To this second turn-down your wife shrugs and says okay.
About 20 minutes later, after some thought on your part, you go back to your wife and say, “Okay, let’s go to the park.”
You leave a meeting hopping mad. You meet your friend and tell her you are furious at the way your co-worker Jim behaved at the meeting. He acted as though your committee had done nothing constructive. He cut you off when you were talking. He made one sarcastic response after another.
The friend you are spilling your guts to says, “Maybe he’s just had a bad day. Maybe he had a fight with one of his kids. Don’t be so hard on him.”
Why is your friend taking Jim’s side? You wonder. This woman is supposed to be your friend. In fact, she doesn’t even know Jim, so why would she be defending him?
You decide to join a gym. You tell your mother you’re working out three mornings a week. Your mother says, “That’s ridiculous. You need your rest. You don’t need to be getting up at the crack of dawn three mornings a week to go to some silly gym.”
You feel deflated and annoyed. You told your mother because you wanted to share your new endeavor and you wanted her support.
I have just presented four typical knee-jerk responses.
First I described the wife who jumps in and tries to solve her husband’s problem instead of simply listening to him complain. This is the problem-solving knee-jerk response.
In the next story, the husband immediately says no to his wife’s suggestion of going to the park. His is the “no” knee-jerk response.
In the third scenario, your friend defends Jim and starts making all kinds of excuses for him. This is the “let’s make it better” knee-jerk response.
In the fourth incident, Mom is unsupportive and critical of your early morning workouts. Hers is a “devil’s advocate” knee-jerk response.
Unfortunately, all these responses are inappropriate. The person who started each conversation wanted only to be listened to, to get some sympathy, and to get some approval.
Ask yourself, Which knee-jerk response do I usually have? Do I need to do anything differently?
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