Have you ever told someone about something you had a problem with, and had them immediately jump in with a solution to your problem? We all have, haven’t we? And occasionally it’s useful and helpful, but often it is just somewhat annoying, yet you know they’re just trying to help.
Their solution can sound condescending or just be inappropriate. It may be something you have already considered and decided wouldn’t work for you, or it may just not fit for you or your particular version of the problem.
You see, most fixes offered are ones that would make sense in the fixer’s view of the world, rather than yours. The fixer is interpreting the problem in the way it would show up in their lives and offering the solution that would work for them. So they’ve solved the problem for themselves, should it appear, but not for you! The problem may sound the same as it would in their world, but the implications and impact of it in your world will be different. Similarly, the solution may work in their world, but it may not fit your way of sorting things out, or deal with all the implications for you.
Of course, we’ve all been that ‘fixer’ as well, and of course, we offer the solution because we want to help. So how can we help more usefully?
There are two ways we can be really helpful to someone with a problem. The first way is to take the time to allow them just to talk about it, without judgement or interruptions.
Many years ago, a friend of mine phoned to suggest she came round that evening. I was feeling really miserable and that the world was full of shit, so I told her not to. Ten minutes later, she knocked at the door. ‘I’ve brought wine, and pen and paper,’ she said. ‘I’m going to take notes while you tell me all about it, and we have a glass of wine.’
After about half an hour of pouring out my miseries, I began to feel my mood changing. I apologised for inflicting it all on her, and she said: ‘you didn’t. I was in a good mood anyway, and I feel just fine. I thought I could just be a light at the end of the tunnel, and help you to make your way through that tunnel.’ What a lovely description of what she had done to help me! She had kept herself feeling good, and allowed me to express what I was feeling so it came out of my mind and body, and I could get some perspective again. Just allowing me to talk it out made such a difference.
The second thing we can do for others is to ask questions that help them to sort it out for themselves, in ways that work in their world. A few useful questions might be:
- What exactly is bothering you about this?
- How would you like it to be resolved?
- What would make it possible for you to sort it out?
- What would help you to sort it out?
These sorts of questions help people to find their own answers, ones that will work for them.
So next time someone comes to you with a problem, don’t be a fixer – be someone who helps them to help themselves.