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To Advise or Not to Advise? That is the Question!

It is the age-old question, what does a woman want when she shares her problem with you?  I recall as a child, my mother telling me “A woman wants to be heard, listened to, understood… yet a man is programmed to fix things and often jumps to advice before listening enough to address the woman’s needs”. In recent weeks this exact issue has reared its head numerous times in my counselling room and so it is apparent it needs some airtime.

Doug… “I don’t even know what I said wrong this week.  I arrived home to hear Tracey complaining about feeling trapped in the home with the kids, stating that it was starting to feel like a cage for her.  I then commented that she’d visited three different friends this week, to which she replied ‘what? so now I can’t even have friends?’… I have no idea what happened there”.

Poor Doug, this just made me smile.  His attempt at providing examples to his wife that demonstrated that the problem was less than she had thought, was not met with the acceptance and gratitude that he had hoped.  When I explained to Doug that Tracey had most likely interpreted his ‘help’ as him telling her she was wrong, he was shocked.

Another woman (Kate) disclosed to me that she had been discussing her businesses financial concerns with her husband (Tom) while she was cooking dinner.  He (an Accountant and business owner himself) gave the useful advice of “you just need to ensure that your financial inflows exceed your outflows”. Kate reports that she almost threw the vegetable knife at him. “Did he honestly think that I am that dumb, that I had seriously not realised that?” she said.

Both men were attempting with the best intentions to ‘help’ their wives, yet both wives saw the ‘help’ as adversarial and not empathetic.

The examples above are gender specific, as was my mother’s assertion, however I don’t necessarily believe that this issue is limited to men mis-helping women! The reverse can also be true, and most certainly as parents we all too often jump to ‘fix it’, ‘reframe it’, ‘justify it’ or ‘help them to see if differently’ when it comes to our children’s complaints.

Essentially when a person shares a concern with you, it is important to first listen!  Listen with your whole self: your ears, eyes, heart, and soul.  Hear deeply what the person is sharing with you and try to understand from their perspective what the issue is.  Ask questions to gain more information (not to question them, but to gain deeper insight), paraphrase it back to ensure you have it right.

Your job at this early stage is NOT TO FIX anything, but simply to LISTEN!

Imagine that your partners/child/friend is sitting on a couch sharing his/her story with you.  You have two choices, you can sit beside them, in their story and listen… or you can sit opposite them to fix it, pull them out, etc.  Essential the ‘fix it’ position is adversarial, the listening position is partnering.

In many cases the sharing party is not dumb and has considered almost every option that you will throw at them. So, for this moment simply be with them, sit momentarily in the mess with them.

If this partnering isn’t sufficient to ease the load, you can now ask… “Is there anything I can do to help?”.  In the first example above with Doug I imagine that Tracey answer would have been, “no, but thank you”.  For Tom, I’m sure that Kate would have ask for them to do what they always do and throw around ideas as a team, as a partnership.

So, my advice to those ‘listeners’ out there, chose your chair… are you sitting with them as a partner? Or opposite them as an expert?

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