Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios Pro Rata

Dive into the world of dealmakers across VC, PE and M&A with Axios Pro Rata. Delivered daily to your inbox by Dan Primack and Kia Kokalitcheva.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Nashville news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Nashville newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Columbus news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Columbus newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Dallas news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Dallas newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Austin news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Austin newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Atlanta news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Atlanta newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Philadelphia news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Philadelphia newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Chicago news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Chicago newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top DC news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios DC newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

2020 brought unprecedented challenges for millions of people, but how we talk about our distress, pain and problems can help us cope.

Why it matters: Conversation "partners help, collaborate and validate us as we try to put into words what in some ways are unspeakable difficulties," says Denise Solomon, who studies interpersonal communication at Penn State University.

  • "It’s really critical in these extreme non-normative situations we are in."

The big picture: Some researchers are calling for neuroscientists and communication scientists to collaborate in studying our conversations to more precisely understand what happens in our brains when we interact and try to support one another.

How it works: Supportive conversations can relieve stress and improve our emotions.

But the content of a conversation is key.

  • In a study earlier this year, Solomon and her colleagues presented married adults who had a disagreement with hypothetical messages from a confidant.
  • The messages varied from ones that recognized and validated the person's feelings to others that criticized or minimized them.
  • Messages that minimized someone's feelings in some cases led people to report feeling angry and to display reactance, which can occur when someone feels their ownership or control of the situation is threatened
  • The validating messages helped people, while the "low person-centered" messages in some cases led people to report feeling angry and to display reactance, which can occur when someone feels their ownership or control of the situation is threatened.

How a conversation unfolds is important, too.

  1. The first part should involve a lot of questions, says Solomon, and not trying to interpret or share one’s own experience. One of the most beneficial things is to “give people the opportunity to tell their story in their own words,” says Solomon.
  2. "As we get further into the conversation — in some ways when the discloser stops saying new things — then we move from reflective to interpretive," says Solomon. Here, she says, the goal is to guide someone to a new appraisal of their stressful experience. For an exhausted health care worker, it may be saying, "I’m glad you can talk to the families because you can do so with compassion," Solomon offers.
  3. The last phase is where one can most effectively offer advice or talk about their own experience, she says.

But it's important to listen because advice often isn't what people are looking for, says Amanda Holmstrom, who studies interpersonal communication at Michigan State University.

  • And you should make sure you have the capacity to listen and the environment is appropriate, she adds.

The flip side: There's a lot of pressure on the listener, but the teller plays an important role. "Disclosers have to be willing to tell their story and be receptive to the help even recognizing their experience may be so specific and extreme that no one else has ever experienced it," says Solomon.

  • The catch: “We’re not very good at it. Part of it is that there isn’t a simple set of messages,” says Solomon.

One potential pitfall: Conversations can devolve into rumination and co-rumination. We can get stuck in these "cul-de-sacs," as Solomon describes them, and "never get past this mutual telling of our distress to where it is reflective and ultimately put into a broader perspective."

  • "I believe in people's intention to be supportive, but in doing so, they project their own experience or what they would find supportive," she says. "Don’t presume they are experiencing it the way you are experiencing it."

Context: Neuroscientists have long studied our social brains — through the lens of empathy, morality and other processes — often by looking at one brain's neural activity during different interactions.

  • But one person's response will affect the other's, whether in nonverbal communication like seeing fear in someone's face or in conversations, says Chris Frith, a professor emeritus at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London who uses brain imaging to study social interaction.
  • "This is very interesting but extremely difficult to study because we need two people in scanners," he says, adding techniques like EEG are easier.

What to watch: Holmstrom and her colleagues propose in a new paper that interpersonal communication scientists could benefit from neuroscience tools to look at the simultaneous brain activity of two people engaged in conversation.

  • "It may allow us to tap into important things people can’t articulate," says Holmstrom.
  • For example: "It would be great to know what is going on in the brain that leads people to disclose their emotional pain and how they disclose it. Or how they decide who they are going to tell and how. And what is going on in the brain of the person listening."
  • And communication science could offer neuroscience some theories about brain interactions, they propose.

The bottom line: "Collaboration is critical," says Frith. "We have vast amounts of data but not enough theory to understand it."

Go deeper

Fauci says vaccine rollout’s "bumps and hiccups” won’t last long

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: the Washington Post, Pool/Getty Images

Despite the slow roll out of vaccines so far, NIAID director Anthony Fauci says the COVID-19 vaccination campaign will ramp up fast enough that Americans should see "a degree of normality in the fall."

Driving the news: President-elect Biden is planning a program that will have "much more interaction between the federal government and the states than there are right now" in order to reach his goal of 1 million vaccines a day for 100 days, Fauci tells Axios.

49 mins ago - World

Pope Francis denounces European governments' migrant response

Pope Francis adresses refugees at the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos on Sunday. Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Pope Francis criticized European countries' response to migrants and asylum seekers during his visit to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos Sunday.

Why it matters: The pope said "migration is a humanitarian crisis that concerns everyone," but little had changed in the global response to displaced peoples since his first visit to Lesbos five years ago, per a transcript of his remarks. "Human lives, real people, are at stake. ... let us stop this shipwreck of civilization!"

Chris Cuomo accuser: On-air "hypocrisy" spurred report

Journalist Chris Cuomo. Photo: Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images

A woman who accused fired CNN journalist Chris Cuomo of sexual misconduct said Sunday she decided to come forward after learning of his comments about women who made similar accusations about his brother. He denies her allegations.

Why it matters: Her attorney Debra Katz said in a statement that she heard "the hypocrisy" of his on-air words about his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and was "disgusted by his efforts to try to discredit these women," so "retained counsel to report his serious sexual misconduct against her to CNN."