‘Person A was telling person B about her problems at work. Person B listened attentively and patiently while person A talked. At the same, person B was working out something mentally, which might help person A solved her problems. As soon as person A stopped talking, person B started to tell person A what she could do to solve her problems at work.‘ A typical scenario that can happen between a couple, family members and friends.
The questions are, “Was person A seeking solutions from person B for her problems at work? Or person A simply needed a listening ear?” There are no straightforward answers for this.
This is one common mistake in relationship which I tend to make very often previously. Usually when someone told me his/her problem, I just assumed that I was supposed to fix it. You can guess the frustration when the person said, “I didn’t ask for your opinion or advice.” In my mind I was wondering, “Why are you telling me about your problem in the first place when you don’t need my opinion or advice?” I didn’t understand that the person just needed someone to talk to and at time to sympathize with his/her situation.
I have come to realise that we are not expected to fix problems always from books and seminars which I attended. From then onwards, I tried to be a mind-reader; trying my best to grasp what the other person needed. Sometimes I was right, sometimes I was wrong. Wouldn’t it be much easier if the person just tell us what he/she wants?
In the book ‘Finding the Words: Candid Conversations with Loved Ones,’ the author Susan P. Halpern cited a story:
Lester felt inadequate, he realized, when Judy aired her personal concerns. He did not know what to do or say. His impulse was to think up a solution right away. All Judy wanted from Lester was that he listen when she talked about herself. He did not need to fix anything.
… Only by telling our partner what we want can the need be met. Judy realised that she only wanted to be listened to. That was it. She wanted to hear herself talk through her issues, maybe get a little sympathy, and she would be fine.
When Lester came up with his great ideas, Judy felt he was saying she was dumb for not thinking of them herself. She felt belittled and dependent. He was the only one who could fix things, she felt.
When she told him that she just needed time to talk and a friendly ear, she felt better and she went on to handle her problems in her own way. Judy had to tell Lester that she just wanted him to listen, and he learned to do just that.
In communication, we not only need to listen attentively, patiently and openly but we also need to convey our thought and need accordingly. Trying to read mind or assuming the need of another is a mistake that cause tension and conflict between a couple, family members and friends. We need to clearly communicate to each other what we want.
Do you always expect solution from your partner when you talk about your problem or most time you just need a listening ear? When you are talking to your partner, how do you communicate what you want to him/her?