Has this happened to you?
You have every good intention of taking care of your priorities. Getting started on your Chapter3. Resolving to take care of your own business before anyone else’s.
Then without realizing it, you find yourself sidetracked.
At the end of the day, you look at your to do list, or the blank page on your computer screen, or the intention of your day and realize little if any of it was accomplished.
And after this happens a few times, pretty soon you realize it’s often other people and their problems who end up taking over your time.
What are you gonna do?
(Yes, I realize gonna is not a word but it’s the way this midwestern girl talks and I’m trying to keep it real here, ok?)
I used to think I was the world’s best problem solver. A fixer. Somehow I could make everything nice for people who were struggling if only they’d take my advice. I had a million answers. Lots of ideas. I was a good listener and sometimes I listened too long and too often…
Sound familiar? Are you a problem solver too? Ready to throw on the Super Hero leotard at a moments notice? At the expense of ignoring your own priorities?
What are you gonna do?
There are people who are chronic complainers. Whose lives are a never-ending drama series. Who find themselves constantly at odds with someone about something. Who feel somehow they’re constantly getting the short end of the stick. And they want to tell whoever will listen just how unfairly they’re treated.
And generally any advice we offer is met with some kind of push back relating why it won’t work. So we try again. Same result. And before you know it, we’re dragged in the middle of a he said, she said, pity party dialogue we have no chance of resolving.
It’s a time waster and you’re not doing the offending party any favors either. It’s THEIR problem. THEIR issue to solve. THEIR rat’s nest to unscramble.
As a friend, we’re sympathetic. Yet when there’s a repeating pattern going on and your own priorities are suffering, something’s gotta give. But how do you break the cycle?
Would you like an idea?
Let’s assume you’re on the listening end of a conversation with someone describing their drama of the day. It could be anyone: your kid, a friend, your sibling, an in-law, or a co-worker.
Instead of offering any comments simply listen, then ask this question:
“What are you gonna do?”
No words of advice. No judgement. No taking sides. Simply those five little words. And not one more.
To be really effective . . . and this is critical . . . you must say it with as much empathy as you can possibly muster.
If it’s said accusingly . . . as in, “NOW what are you going to do?” Or filled with blame & disgust . . . . as in “Well, exactly WHAT are YOU going to do?” you’re whistling in the wind. Because the person becomes defensive and all of a sudden you just got an invitation to their mess.
If you use the wrong tone of voice, the situation shifts from them to you, and you’ll get a response of, “See? I KNEW you’d never understand” or “You think you know everything.” or “You just don’t get it.”
They start to justify their role in the problem rather than solve it.
So the next time you find yourself listening to someone else’s issue, what are you gonna do?
Four Steps to End the Cycle
If you are ready to end the cycle, try this:
- Listen without judging. Say nothing. Zip it.
- Make sure you are actively listening, i.e. a sympathetic nod, good eye contact, or whatever emotion is appropriate. Be concerned, or be sad, but above all be non-judgmental.
- When the person has finished describing the issue, add a simple opening comment such as, “That’s awful.” or “How terrible/sad/upsetting/unkind/thoughtless” etc. or “Wow. That sucks.”
- Then with deepest sincerity simply say, “What are you gonna do?” And NOTHING ELSE.
Anticipating the Response
What is their usual response?
“I don’t really know what to do.”
Which is an invitation to jump back in with some advice, right? They’re hoping you’re going to come up with an answer.
But this time you’re not going to take the bait.
Instead you’re going to say this:
“Well, I’m sure you’ll come up with something. Because if anyone can figure this out, it’s YOU.”
And then give them a hug and a smile and an I love you and be done.
If the person in distress is a kid (child or adult), add this:
“Hey! When you come up with a few ideas and you want to run them by me, I’m always happy to listen.”
“If you really get stuck and can’t come up with anything, I’d be happy to share what other people have done in similar circumstances. Let me know.”
When you’re dealing with kids . . . of any age . . . they might offer an even bigger hair-brained solution and once again . . . .resist the urge to comment. Keep it zipped.
Listen without judgement. Seriously listen.
Ask . . . would they be interested in your thoughts? They’ll say “yes” but always ask if they’re interested in listening before you launch.
Acknowledge their attempt and the upside of whatever they’ve come up with. Then share what you see as the downside.
Finish with something like, “I’m sure you’ll do what’s best for you.” or “I’m sure you’ve thought this all the way through.” or “If anyone can get through this, it’s YOU.” (which is always my favorite).
Here’s the Life Lesson: When we problem solve for people of any age, we’re not doing them any favors. If someone makes a mess, it’s up to them to clean it up. People need to figure out how to be their own Super Hero so they aren’t always looking for a stand-in.
So . . . one last question . . .
What are you going to do?