Implicit Requests

A participant: Marshall, I was thinking about how sometimes we women get together with our men and we drive around and say, “Oh, isn’t that a cute house?” or “Look at that lake, that’s the one I want to go on.” They think they have to get us a new house or take us to the lake right away, but even though we may seem enthusiastic, we’re not asking for anything — we’re just talking out loud.

Marshall: Now I want to defend men. Not just men. When you don’t say what you want back, you create more pain in relationships than you are probably conscious of. Other people have to guess, “Is she wanting me to say something cute and superficial about this thing, or is she really trying to tell me something else?”

The Slowest Train in All of My Life

It’s like the gentleman sitting next to his wife on the little train at the Dallas airport that connects the terminals. I was sitting across from them. Now this train goes very slowly and the man turned to his wife in a great state of agitation and said, “I have never seen a train go so slow in all of my life.”

Notice how that is similar to“lsn’t that an interesting house?” What did she want there? What does he want here?

He wasn’t aware of the amount of pain it creates for the other person when we just give commentary and don’t make explicit what we want back. It’s a guessing game. But knowing what you are really wanting back from your words requires a consciousness of living in the moment — of being fully present right now. So he didn’t say anything more than, “I’ve never seen a train go so slow in my whole life.”

Sitting right across from them, I could see that she was uncomfortable: somebody she loves is in pain and she doesn’t know what he wants. So she did what most of us do when we don’t know what a person is wanting from us. She said nothing.

Then he did what most of us do when we’re not getting what we want: he repeated himself, as though magically, if you just keep repeating yourself, you’ll get what you want. We don’t realize that just burns other people’s brains out. So again he says, “I have never seen a train go so slow in all of my life!”

I loved her response: she said, “They’re electronically timed.” I don’t think that’s what he wanted. Why would she give him information that he already knows? Because she is trying to be a fixer, trying to make it better. She doesn’t know what to do and he has contributed to her pain by not telling her what he wants.

So he repeats himself a third time, “I have never seen a train go so slow in all of my life!”
And then she says, “Well, what do you want me to do about it?!”

Empathy – Being Present With Feelings and Needs

What he wanted is what each of us wants every day, and when we don’t get it, there is a significant effect on our morale. We want it every day, usually more than one time a day, and when we don’t get it, we pay a high cost. Most of the time when we want it, we’re not conscious of it and even if we are conscious of it, we don’t know how to ask for it. Tragic.

I am confident that what he wanted was empathy.
He wanted a response that would tell him that she was in contact with his feelings and needs.

Now if he had studied Giraffe, he might have said something like, “Boy, I’ve never seen a train go so slow in all of my life! Could you just reflect back right now what I’m feeling and needing?”

She might have said, “So I guess you’re really aggravated and you wish they would have managed these trains differently.”

“Yes, and more than that, you know if we don’t get there in time, then we’re going to be late and we might have to pay extra for our tickets.”

“So you’re scared and you’d like to get there on time so that we don’t have to end up paying more money.”

“Yeah (sigh).”

There is something enormously valuable when we are in pain to just having another person there in contact with it. It’s amazing how that kind of attention can make such a difference. It doesn’t solve our problem, but it provides the kind of connection that lets the problem solving become more bearable. When we don’t get that –as he didn’t– then they both end up in more pain than they started.