Empathy or Solution

From Weekly I/O#11

When we want to be helpful in response to other's feeling bad, first figure out what they want is empathy or solution.

Podcast: Lisa Feldman Barrett: Balancing the Brain Budget [The Knowledge Project Ep. #92]

Lisa Feldman Barrett is a neuroscientist, psychologist, and author of How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain. In Weekly I/O #10, I noted the five intriguing things in this episode. Here's another.

What do we do when our partner or friends are feeling something like anxiety or anger? The first thing that we have to do, which is a really hard thing to do, is to figure out what they want. Sometimes what someone wants is just empathy, and sometimes what they want is help.

Think about the time when we offer advice for how to solve a problem to someone who at that moment really just wants a pat on the back or a hug.

For Lisa, the first thing that she does in her house is saying, do you want empathy or do you want a solution? What do you want? She said if she asks her daughter, her daughter will tell her almost 100% of the time, I want empathy. But if she asks her husband, he would almost always say I want a solution.

I'm wondering if it is emotionally (or even culturally) appropriate to ask "do you want empathy or do you want a solution" whenever we get into those situations and can't differentiate the two. Is there a better way to handle the situation?

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