So I’ve ranted a little bit recently about how to talk to a woman, and I noted in that rant that women have these things called ‘feelings,’ and dealing with them can be hard for a guy. What I failed to really note there was that everyone apparently has these ‘feelings,’ and that ‘feelings’ actually form about 95% of our motivations for doing things…anything.

Back when I was determined to be an insurance salesman, I learned a lot about the art of selling. One of the things that they taught you was “people buy things based on the way they feel, and then back up those decisions with logic.” That meant that your goal as a salesman was to make the product feel right, and then give the customer the logical backup they needed to convince themselves that their intuitive decision to buy was the right one.

Unfortunately, feelings have this problem: they don’t respond to logic. It’s not that feelings are illogical, necessarily — most feelings can be explained with logic if the feeler gives it a shot — but they don’t respond to logic.

You can’t ever look at someone who is feeling a feeling and say “you shouldn’t be feeling that, and here’s my logical proof that presents you with unassailable reasoning as to why not.” Or rather, you can, but it won’t work. Feelings respond to empathy, not logic.

The Thanksgiving Thing
So, for example, I wrote a few weeks ago about how I was all upset about the Thanksgiving leftovers. My wife, who understood the situation entirely differently than I did because she saw her mother’s point of view (“Mikie’s gonna eat ALL THE THINGS!”) as well as mine (“We bought the food! We brought the food! We made the food! Why don’t we get to EAT THE FOOD?!?”), had to try to convince me that her mother’s perspective had some validity. The problem was, my feelings were hurt, and no amount of logical display on her part was going to make those feelings respond.

If it had been me, trying to explain to her what was going on, that conversation would STILL BE HAPPENING TODAY, because I no explain feelings good, and at least between my wife and I, conversations don’t end until everyone understands. But because it was my wife at the helm, she was able to pet me and say ‘Mikie, it’s OK that you feel upset about that. I feel upset about it too; I really wanted some of those leftovers.’

That got my feelings mollified, and once she told me that my feelings were OK and that she shared them, then I was ready to listen to all of the reasoning that explained why my MIL’s feelings were just as OK as mine were and where those feelings came from.

Connecting With Spazzmo
So I know first-hand the power of empathizing first and then trying to apply reasoning. And because I have this five-year-old running around, I also know how important it is to him that I acknowledge his feelings before trying to apply reasoning, too.

This is very different from doing it to an adult, for a couple of reasons. First of all, his feelings quite frequently amount to “OMG SPAZZMO!” which is five-year-old for “I’m just a little hyper right now and I’m really enjoying sprinting across the room screaming ‘buh-kaw!’ and slamming headfirst into the couch hard enough to make it rock backwards and thump into the wall while my feet fly into the air. Then doing it again…and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and ag–GURK!”

That last sound, if you can’t see it in your head, is me grabbing my son out of mid-sprint and hauling him up and over my head and into my lap so I can try to talk him out of yet another three dozen repetitions. The problem is that, again, feelings. You can’t logic a little boy out of OMG SPAZZMO… at least not without connecting with him first.

And ‘connecting’ with OMG SPAZZMO means becoming OMG SPAZZMO, at least for a tiny moment, so that you can feel it and empathize for real. It means getting in a tickle fight, or making a funny face, or somehow bringing your level to his level so that you’re operating on the same plane…only then can you bring the level of activity to another place where you can get some actual communication done.

This can be really, insanely difficult to do if, for example, you’re right in the middle of busting out sixteen thousand words on how to get perfect six-pack abs (yes, that’s my actual job I’m working on right now.) You have to get out of business mode and into to OMG SPAZZMODE and then back again…and what you really want to do is shout “JUST STOP IT!!!”…which doesn’t work for crap.

My Son Understands This Naturally…Why Don’t I?
The amazing thing is, my son has this incredible knack for approaching people on their level. Or at least my wife and I. However we’re doing, he’ll come up and be as quiet and reserved as we are, or as boisterous and loud as we are, or as grim and poised as we are, and he’ll say “I love you!” and give you a hug. He might not be able to vocalize his empathy terribly well, but he obviously feels it.

At least, when he’s not OMG SPAZZMO!

I somehow seem to have missed out on this ability, however. I can look over at my wife right now and I know that she’s feeling like crap. Tired, nausea (we’ve been sick all week), feeling mildly useless on an existential level…Christmas was awesome, but post-Christmas has been a little bit of a drag because we’re all tired and sick. And the thing is, I actually know how she’s feeling — empathy shouldn’t even be a problem here, because I literally feel the same way — and yet, for some reason, it’s really hard for me to start a conversation, because the only thing I can think of is “what can I do for you, hon?”

And as we all remember from the ‘talking to a woman’ post, that’s problem-solving speak — exactly what she’s NOT looking for. But something in my man-brain makes walking up and being all like “Wow…life sure sucks right now, huh?” feel intensely stupid.

My son, on the other hand, just walks up to her and gives her a hug and climbs in her lap and snuggles up all cute with his thumb in his mouth, and she hugs him back…and smiles the most beautiful smile I’ve seen from her all week. Because sometimes, it’s not actually about talking at all, and feeling like someone loves you really is the most important thing.

I have a lot to learn for my son…but I also have a lot to learn from my son, apparently. Time to get schooled. 🙂