Don’t Try to Solve a Problem That Isn’t Yours

Posted by Todd Smith

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Do you remember the days before everyone had Caller ID and before there was a Do Not Call list? What I remember most distinctly is the phone ringing every night around 5:30 p.m. as my family and I sat down to dinner. Whether they were selling windows, offering to switch my phone service, or insisting that they could save me money on something I didn’t need—I often resented the interruption and their unsolicited advice.

In all fairness, those callers may have had something valuable to offer, but their timing was way off. They were trying to sell me a solution when I didn’t ask for one.

Learning to Listen Without Trying to Fix The Problem

This same notion holds true when listening to a friend or coworker who is sharing a problem or concern with us. Unfortunately, in an effort to be helpful, we’re all guilty of diving into ‘fix-it’ mode and are ready with a quick solution as soon as there’s a break in the conversation.

Maybe it’s because we feel if we can’t solve their problem or offer some useful advice, we’re not being a good friend or a good listener. In reality, however, nothing could be farther from the truth.

When we rush in to save the day and offer a solution to a problem that doesn’t belong to us, we are actually discrediting the seriousness of the problem!  And, by extension, we discredit those people who are sharing their problems because we actually insult their ability to work through their own issues without our help.

What Does a Good Listener Look Like?

Take a moment to think of people you consider to be good listeners. What qualities make them different?  What do they do or not do that lets people know they are willing to listen? If your list is anything like mine, it includes qualities like calm, thoughtful, and contemplative. When I think of the good listeners in my life, I picture how they listen with their whole bodies—not just with their ears.

Good listeners are trusted friends who are marked by their ability to listen without offering advice. They are respected leaders whose intentional listening habits demonstrate genuine care, interest and concern. All have strong, close relationships with others and are excellent at building rapport.

How to Become a Better Listener

Resist the temptation to offer advice or a solution when you are the one who’s listening. Rarely is someone looking for us to solve whatever challenging issue it is they’re facing. In almost all cases, what they’re looking for is someone to simply listen.

Because there will be times when you are asked for advice, remember that in most cases the person asking already has all the pieces of the solution; they usually just need a good listener to help them through the decision process. In these instances, you can ask questions such as, “What do you think your next step should be?” or “What do you think is your best solution?” or “How do you want this to turn out?”

By asking questions you enable people to solve their own problems without offering your advice. Asking these types of guiding questions when requested to help, will not only strengthen your relationships, but they will also build their self-confidence, because they have solved their own problems.

The next time you have the privilege of listening to a friend share his or her concerns, challenges or problems, I urge you to be intentional about withholding your advice and overcoming the temptation to offer a solution. Most of us are presented with multiple listening opportunities each day and how we respond will influence the quality of relationships we build.

If you spend more time listening and asking questions rather than offering solutions and opinions, people’s respect for you will grow and your relationships will blossom.

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About the Author:

Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 34 years and founder of Little Things Matter. To receive Todd’s lessons, subscribe here. All Todd’s lessons are also available on iTunes as downloadable podcasts.


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