Don’t Guess, Just Ask.
When we talk with others about their problems, we usually want to be helpful. For some people, being helpful includes listening, cheerleading, and letting someone vent. For others, being helpful means offering solutions and assisting in problem-solving. If you find yourself having a conversation with someone who is talking about a problem and you aren’t sure what to do…don’t guess, just ask.
Ricky is a good friend of mine. He and I will talk pretty regularly, and when we do, he’ll often share what’s happening with his small business. Sometimes Ricky would share a problem and I’d just listen. At other times I’d offer solutions, or ask questions to help break the problem down. In some conversations, it didn’t seem like what I was doing was what he really wanted.
Over time I learned to simply ask him what he wanted in that conversation. This literally sounded like, “Ricky, I’m here for you man, and want to make sure I’m helping the best way I can right now. How much do you want me to just listen, and how much do you want me to help you solve this problem?”
This has changed our conversations so I’m not guessing what he wants—I’m literally asking and then supporting him that way. I don’t do this every time he brings up something, since that would get tiresome. If he dwells on a topic, it’s an indicator that this issue is important to him, and I’ll ask how he wants me to help.
Sometimes we think we know what the other person wants. Some relationship books describe how guys typically want to problem solve, and women lean towards listening. Only that isn’t what the other person always wants. The fact is we don’t know—even with siblings, our best friends, and colleagues we’ve worked with for decades.
The next time you’re having a conversation and feel some unease with how you’re supporting your coworker, friend, or family member, remember that you aren’t a mind reader. You care about showing up for the other person the way they want. And if you care enough to do what they want, you can just ask.