Originally published on the Huffington Post on June 26, 2013.
Jason Headley did a great job conveying what seems to be a complicated relationship story in its simplest form. I was laughing so hard that I decided to write a blog about it.
First, take a minute to watch this hilarious video. Second, enjoy my light-hearted analysis and share your own analysis and recommendations in the comments.
Scenario 1. Sometimes, the nail is not really there.
Most times people complain for the sake of complaining. Your friend/significant other/whoever makes statements such as: “I can’t believe (insert name) did that? OMG, I am so stressed about my (insert issue). It’s giving me a pounding headache.”
Solution: They really just want to vent. Respond for the sake of responding. Repeat their concerns back to them: “I can’t believe (insert name) did that. (Insert issue) can be very stressful. Just hearing about it is giving me a headache, too.” Really, it’s not “lying,” it’s called “empathy”. Even if you don’t 100% agree with him or her, you can still show you understand.
Scenario 2. The nail is there, but I don’t want to do anything about it.
You have been listening to the same complaints over and over. It’s the same old crap. You can see the bright and shiny nail clearly on their forehead and just want to pull it out. The solution is so obvious to you. But wait, they have not asked the questions: “What should I do? What do you think?”
Solution: As much as you want to pull that darn nail, don’t! They just are not ready yet. You can gently lead the conversation to a path that will hopefully help them realize the real issue. “I often wonder about the best way to deal with (insert issue). Do you have any ideas that might help the situation?” Turn one-way listening into two-way conversation. Help steer them to a place where they are ready to do something about it.
Scenario 3: The nail is there, I am ready to do something about it.
Finally, your tactic is working! They asked the questions: “Can you help me? What should I do?…”
Solution: Now, pull the nail by offering 2-3 recommendations. “I feel your (insert issue) deeply (empathy still works.) Have you considered doing (this) or (that)?”
Scenario 4: The nail is gone. It works!
Hooray! Your job is done!
Solution: Acknowledge the great job they have done. Your job is done. But, as Michael from The Godfather said, “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.” It’s called “Oh, wait! I found another nail.” Let’s go back to scenario 1.
Scenario 5: I did something as you suggested, but the nail is still here.
What?! My suggestions are not working?! That’s not possible. Instead of fixing their nail, you feel that you have a nail on your own head now.
Solution: Wait, it’s not about the nail on your own head. Focus on their nail. After exhausting all your options, the nail is still there. That’s OK. Perhaps it’s time to seek suggestions from others, or professionals. Or maybe it’s time to acknowledge that the nail will never go away, but you did your best job to show your support. You learn to live with it. It’s not called “I hate my nail,” it’s called “co-existing with my nail.”
We all have invisible nails on us. It can be our blind spots, past emotional scars, chronic pain or other issues. Some can easily be removed, some can’t. Who you are is a balance of removing or embracing your nail. In the meantime, I will just be a good listener for my friends. A good listener.