Dear Dr. Rob,
My name is ___________ and I’m a 21 year-old college student. I’ve had a girlfriend for about two years. I’m basically a nice guy and treat her well and our relationship is pretty strong. But when she has a problem, whether it be work, school or family, and I try to solve it for her she says I’m not listening. Is it me? I know I can’t send you a transcript of our conversation to dissect but is there any advice you have for young men out there on how to listen to their girlfriends?
I always have advice. It’s rarely very good but that’s never stopped me from giving it. In this case however I some information that might save our protagonist from getting dumped for not listening. That will leave ladies with only emotional immaturity, infidelity, lack of finances, ugliness, hyper-focus on computer games and sports and beer and friends, lack of ambition and poor personal hygiene as their sole reasons for ending what was once a fulfilling relationship.
When a person has a problem the old adage is that men want the problem solved while women want to be listened to and understood. Although overly stereotypical, conventional thought predicts that men will go into problem-solving mode while women will become empathic because that is what that person would want for him/herself. Rarely is that enough for either however; the reality is that we all tend to want both: to feel validated and understood while being given practical advice for getting through a problem.
If you’re a guy, here’s your job: validate first then help solve the problem. You can remember this two-part formula through my simple mnemonic device: Robert Allen Dobrenski’s Listen (Or) Validate Then Address Problem Strategy (RAD-LOV-TAPS). Mnemonics are a great way to take complex ideas and make them simple.
Let’s highlight the RAD-LOV-TAPS by a simple example. Men, let’s say your wife or girlfriend or mistress comes to you and is very distressed about her boss. Let’s say the boss is being abusive, yelling, asking her to do tasks beyond the scope of her job description and is generally making her feel like shit. Immediately you may begin to consider options: quit, suck it up and deal because the pay is good, complain to Human Resources, shoot the boss in the thigh with an elephant gun, whatever. More often than not you will lose points, however, because you skipping over the validation / listening / empathic voice part and jumping right to the solution. Big mistake.
Watch how it plays out using the RAD-LOV-TAPS:
Part 1: Validation
Woman: I hate my job. My boss is mean, she yells and makes me feel horrible about myself. I don’t know what to do.
You: That’s a horrible thing for her to do to you. Why don’t you tell me more about it and we’ll see if we can come up with something to help you.
Woman: Well, I try to be on time, look professional, be courteous to her and her colleagues, and get all the tasks done for her when she wants them. It just never seems to be enough. She can always find some subtle flaw in what I do and make me feel miserable about it.
You: (Honey, Babe, Sexy or whatever term you use that generally leads to sexual intercourse), you don’t deserve that. You work hard and do your best. You should be getting more respect from her.
Woman: You think so?
You: Yes, absolutely. Do you want to hear about what I think you should do or would you like to talk more about what you’re feeling?
Woman: No tell me what you would do.
Part 2: Problem-Solving
You: I think you need to assert yourself and tell her what you will and will not put up with. You need to command respect from her because she is not going to give it to you out the kindness of her heart. Of course it may backfire and you could get fired but at this rate you’ll end up quitting soon anyway, and I think you’re self-esteem will be buoyed by standing up to her.
Woman: Thank you, sweetie. And I think you’re right. I really appreciate that you listened to me. How about I get you a beer and cook you dinner and then I’ll call up my runway model friend and we’ll all have sex together and then she and I will leave and you can have your buddies come over and watch the game. I’ll stop by every hour to see if you need me to go on a beer run or want me to pick up a pizza. How does that sound?
You: Only if that’s what you want.
Woman: It is, Wonderstud. It is.
See how easy listening can be? Just remember RAD-LOVE-TAPS and name your first four kids after me because you’re about to become a much happier man.
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