Do You Know When To Fix Somebody, And When To Just Listen?

This post is hard for me. I like to fix things. I love to have problems to solve. I also love to learn things. I’d love to have the answer to every question.

A few weeks ago, a group I was talking with had an interesting discussion. Have you ever had somebody totally drop a bomb on you? He just open up and let you in one some major problem in his life. What’s your first reaction?

If you’re like me, your first reaction is probably something like “Oh, that’s not a big deal. You should try this. And also this. And yeah, this too. Ok, got it?” If you’re a Christian, you’ll probably throw a boilerplate “You’ve got to trust God. God will provide.”

The problem is, that’s often not helpful. I’m not saying I don’t believe it. But when the manure hits the fan, it’s not helpful.

Here are some steps to take when you are dealing with a friend facing a crisis that you think could be fixed, if they would just listen to you:

  1. Give the person some credit for knowledge and life experience– It’s no secret I’m out of a job. I’ve gotten plenty of advice. None of it is helpful. Definitely none of it is new information. (See my post about the most useless career advice, and “Drive Safe…”.) I had somebody ask me if I knew I could look for jobs in the newspaper. No, really? Wow, I’m 36 years old and nobody ever told me there were jobs in the PAPER! What have I been doing with my life? Seriously, when you’re tempted to hand out advice, stop and think critically about whether or not the person you’re advising might actually know, have considered, or even tried the advice you’re hoping to use to apply a quick fix to his or her situation. Please.
  2. Are you actually following or would you follow the advice you’re giving? Prior to being let go, a friend at my job would constantly offer me advice. I hadn’t seen him do any of it himself. I honestly wasn’t interested in following it. It didn’t appeal to me. I wanted to try some of my own ideas first. But he kept coming over to my cubicle and giving me the same advice over and over again. And of course, while he was giving me this advice, I couldn’t do anything else productive. When I was first told I’d be out of there in a few days, and given permission to access the job sites from work, he spent a good 45 minutes giving me that same advice again. That was 45 minutes that I WASN’T applying for other jobs. Then I had to be escorted out because they realized that employees who know they’re short become security risks. He was a friend, but that was wasted time. It wasn’t helpful, and it didn’t “fix” my problem.
  3. Consider this: is it possible that you could be more help if you just shut up and listened? I have a fair amount of intelligence and life experience. I’ve had to find jobs before. I know how to do a job search, and intellectually, I know what steps I have to take to secure another position. But honestly, I’m scared. I don’t want to end up miserable again. I don’t want to be stuck in another stuffy cube next to the gossip-hole. I don’t want to be doing boring, tedious work again. I don’t want to work for another micromanger. I don’t want to be in another organization that is busy being busy. I want to be effective. I want to have challenges and solve problems. And I’m afraid if I go too fast, I’ll end up in another bad fit. And I don’t want that. It’s not good for me, and it’s not good for the company (see below). I’m often able to work through my own problems when I have somebody to think out loud to. I assume other people are as well.

When somebody drops a bomb on you, please consider that there might not be a quick fix. Consider the possibility that maybe you could do more good just by listening, rather than dispensing advice.

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