These are seven different ways that sharing can go awry when you’re trying to connect with someone.
Perhaps they blame, try to fix, freak out, or something else… instead of simply being with you in your human experience.
These “empathy misses,” as Brené Brown calls them, get in the way of authentic connection.
These words are my original take on some of her research.
Now, to make things more relatable, I’ve written them as though you’re sharing and the other person misses you.
But, often we do the “empathic missing” to our husbands without realising it.
So, flip the words around in your head depending on which stories come to mind when I share.
We’ve all probably been on the receiving end of conversation missteps—with parents, teachers, extended family, church acquaintances, and work colleagues.
And we’ve probably also unintentionally dealt out these sucker-punches once or twice as well.
The ways we disconnect in conversation are positivity (Mistake 1), distraction (Mistake 2), silence (Mistake 3), blaming (Mistake 4), shutting down (Mistake 5), fixing (Mistake 6) and sympathy (Mistake 7).
Stick with me. We’ll unpack them all below.
The cool thing is that once you can see these patterns, they’re easy to spot—in movies, at family gatherings and in your interactions too.
The conversation blunders people make are coming from a place of “you are making me feel uncomfortable, so I’m gonna do what I can to avoid the pain”.
In a minute, we’ll look at what to do instead. But first, let’s look at these seven common “conversational misses.”
Mistake 1: Sunshine & Lollipops
You share something, and the person you’re talking with says something optimistic that feels dismissive (“You’re exaggerating.” “It can’t have been that bad.”).
This is usually under the guise of trying to help you or encourage you, but the motivation is from their own discomfort, trying to avoid feeling pain. They may not believe you (“It’s not possible…everybody adores you,” or “You can’t be feeling bad, you just did XYZ”).
Or they may try to find the silver lining without acknowledging your experience (“It wasn’t all awful.” “It could have been worse.” “That’s not too bad.”).
Mistake 2: Shiny Object
You share something, and the person you’re talking with uses it as a time to share their experience on the matter.
They may attempt to connect by enthusiastically steamrolling your experience, turning the conversation back to them (“Oh, that’s just like the time I…”), or they may try to one-up you (“It’s nothing! Take a look at what happened to me…”).
Mistake 3: Possum Playing Dead
You share something, and the person you’re talking with is shocked, uncomfortable, and taken aback.
Then there’s usually an uneasy pause—they don’t know what to say, and neither do you. You immediately feel you have shared with someone unsafe. They erk on silently or awkwardly.
You shift to high-speed backpedalling, trying to make them feel better by persuading them that you’re not a deviant, weird, terrible, crazy, messed-up person. Everything is fine…la, la, la…nothing to see here.
Mistake 4: Blame Game
You share something, and the person you’re talking with criticises or condemns you for not taking appropriate action in the circumstance to avoid the pain you’re currently experiencing.
This person may find the feelings you’re going through so intolerable that they need to give them straight back to you. They are trying to dust off their hands of the problem and escape as swiftly as possible by blaming.
They may accuse or chastise you (“What were you thinking?”, “This isn’t good.” “You didn’t do it right.” “Why didn’t you prepare?” or “How could you let this happen?”).
Or if they don’t blame you, they may hunt for the culprit (“Who did this to you?” or “They shouldn’t have let you do it—what were they thinking?”).
Mistake 5: Dazed and Confused
You share something, and the person you’re talking with is too preoccupied with being disappointed in you to connect with you.
This person is preoccupied with what your actions mean to them or what they say about them. Perhaps they expected you to be at a certain level of maturity, so this chat has caught them off guard.
They feel you should be better than this—they expect you to be a pillar of strength, authenticity, and realness, and this is evidence against that story they have of you. It has left them feeling disappointed, lost, and a bit confused.
Mistake 6: Fix-It-Felix
You share something, and the person you’re talking with tries to fix the situation.
You want to be listened to, but the idea of just listening makes them feel incredibly helpless. Snuggled within this feeling of helplessness may be other painful emotions like sadness, frustration, anger etc. They don’t want this to happen to you and never want it to happen again.
Instead of listening, they attempt to control by jumping into a Fix-It-Felix hyperdrive (“Okay, let’s just do XYZ.” “What you need to do is…”).
They have an erroneous belief that if they could just fix the situation, then the pain would magically disappear, and they wouldn’t have to deal with the pain you’re going through. There can be frantic anxiety energy or cold-blooded logic energy when the fixing is proposed.
Mistake 7: Sympathy
You share something, and the person you’re talking with expresses pity (“I’m sorry for you,” “Oh, you poor thing,” or “Bless your heart.”) rather than empathy (“I get you,” “I feel that,” or “Oofph… I’ve been there”).
The undertone of their reply is that you’re alone in your struggle. Their response isn’t to validate your humanity, just the opposite; their response usually makes it seem like those things don’t happen to them or others like them.
What’s The Alternative?
Okay, now let’s consider how the following connection skills can powerfully strengthen your relationships.
With the mistakes, the listener is non consciously communicating, “what you’re saying feels too uncomfortable. I’m going to respond however I need to so that you just shhhhhhh.”
Instead, we want to communicate, “I’m with you on the journey. I’ve got space for you and your challenges. I’m here for you.”
So, I’m going to introduce you to seven corresponding skills. They are encouragement (Skill 1), commonality (Skill 2), silence (Skill 3), exposing lies (Skill 4), vision casting (Skill 5), creative solutions (Skill 6) and empathy (Skill 7).
To do this, we need to harness seven connection skills.
Let me explain.
Skill 1: Hope-Filled Reply
This is no longer about glossing over your experience with positivity (Mistake 1: Sunshine & Lollipop).
You share something, and the person you’re talking with listens and acknowledges your struggle (“I get you,” “I feel that,” “That sounds hard” or “Oofph… I’ve been there” and/or body language like nodding). They may feel that you’re going through something rough, but it doesn’t cause them to pull away. If anything, they lean closer.
You may not want “Sunshine and Lollipops” (where people try to gloss over your experience), but you do need hope. So, perhaps they offer you genuine encouragement (“I can see an opportunity here for you”; “I’m excited to see how you tackle this challenge”; “I can see this is really hard for you. But I know how strong you are. You can do hard things.”
Skill 2: We’re All Human
This is no longer about drawing focus away from you prematurely (Mistake 2: Shiny Object).
You share something, and the person you’re talking with listens and acknowledges your struggle (“I get you,” “I feel that,” “That sounds hard” or “Oofph… I’ve been there” and/or body language like nodding). In this scenario, the person doesn’t chime in with their experience to overtake the conversation.
They engage you and then bring in their experience to comfort you. “I’m not sharing my experience to combat you. I’m sharing my experience so you know you’re not the only person going through this. I can relate to you. ” “I’m not sharing this to one-up you, I’m sharing it so you can level up.” “This is what really helped me—XYZ—and maybe it can help you get through too.” “I’m not about showing off, but honestly, if I can get through it, you can get through it”.
Skill 3: Sacred Silence
This is no longer about going silent out of shock or awkwardness (Mistake 3: Possum Playing Dead).
You share something, and the person you’re talking with listens and acknowledges your struggle (body language like nodding). Instead of an uneasy pause and silence, you notice this person is silent on purpose.
They’re making space to acknowledge you and your experience. You feel like your bravery is being seen and is welcome. You continue to share more because you feel they want to know more. You don’t feel judged by them, quite the opposite. You feel seen and heard—and it feels incredible.
Skill 4: Expose The Lie
This is no longer about making the issue your fault and blaming you (Mistake 4: Blame Game).
You share something, and the person you’re talking with listens and acknowledges your struggle (“I get you,” “I feel that,” or “Oofph… I’ve been there” and/or body language like nodding). This person may find the feelings you’re going through uncomfortable but they don’t pull away, they lean in.
They may redirect you towards blaming the correct thing: the lie. Usually, there’s a lie we’re believing anytime we’re feeling shame or pain. (“What lie are you believing?” “I’m wondering if there’s a lie here that’s making life harder for you?”). They don’t blame you, but they do help you hunt for the culprit (“Why did this get triggered now?” What story do you make up about yourself when this happens?”)
Skill 5: Vision Casting
This is no longer about shutting down and taking your actions personally (Mistake 5: Dazed and Confused).
You share something, and the person you’re talking with listens and acknowledges your struggle. They may feel caught off guard by your words, but they don’t break the connection with you. They show you that they’re not put off by your experience. But neither do they accept that this is who you are (“I see you like XYZ type of person,” “I don’t think you’re like that at all, I also see…”).
They call you higher by casting a vision of what they see. They know you are better than what you may be doing or experiencing, and in humility and pure love, they remind you so. They accept and acknowledge your experience, whilst not settling for the limitations you believe about yourself.
Skill 6: Creative Solutions
This is no longer about dismissing your experience and fixing the problem (Mistake 7: Fix-It-Felix).
You share something, and the person you’re talking with listens and acknowledges your struggle (“I get you,” “I feel that,” or “Oofph… I’ve been there” and/or body language like nodding). They no longer need to go into fix-it mode and can just settle into being with you through your experience.
They don’t take on responsibility for your problems, but instead, they invite you to discover creative solutions you might not have considered (“I believe there’s a creative solution for this situation” “If I was sharing with you, what would you suggest I do in this scenario?”).
This one becomes about guiding the person to their own solutions and leaning into the inherent wisdom in each of us. They already have everything they need for this situation—you’re just believing with them that they’re prepared. You’re simply helping them access creative solutions.
Skill 7: True Empathy
This is no longer about pity and sympathy (Mistake 8: Sympathy).
You share something, and the person you’re talking with listens and acknowledges your struggle (“I get you,” “I feel that,” or “Oofph… I’ve been there” and/or body language like nodding and no talking, just listening).
Even though this is a separate mistake (and skill), it’s really the cement under the house of connection we’re building.
Notice how each skill uses empathy in the beginning before any other specific skill is layered on top. Empathy is foundational. It’s about seeing and acknowledging the other person (“I don’t blame you for feeling like that” “I feel you when you say that”).
The undertone of these responses is healthy acknowledgment. You’re affirming to the person that they’re not alone in their struggle. Your response makes it seem like these things happen to you or others like you as well.
This skill, like Skill 3: Sacred Silence, doesn’t hinge on using words. Sometimes the most impactful thing you can do is use extra strong invisible duct tape and just shhhhhhh. Making space for someone to share their struggles, and challenges (and highlights too!) is one of the most valuable gifts.
Offering this type of space to my husband has always resulted in a closer more intimate relationship, even if it was hard to sit through the conversation initially. Good fruit comes from encouragement (Skill 1), commonality (Skill 2), silence (Skill 3), exposing lies (Skill 4), vision casting (Skill 5), creative solutions (Skill 6) and empathy (Skill 7).
So, that’s it—the seven conversation mistakes we make that cause disconnection and the corresponding seven skills that can powerfully improve connection in your marriage.
To close, I want to encourage you that we all have the ability to connect productively with others, especially our spouses.
I hope these skills will help you avoid disconnection with those you love.
Stephanie Renee Cluff