Don’t Tell Me What To Do!

On the back of last week’s blog (you’re making me feel uncomfortable!) I thought I’d look at the next steps in building trusting relationships where people can feel safe to discuss their deeper fears and anxieties, and feel comfortable to consider a range of options for moving forward.  When we’re busy it can be very easy to offer people solutions.  “Just do that, it’ll be fine!”.  But those solutions can be sticking plasters on what is possibly a much bigger issue than you first realise. Taking the time to support someone to find their own solutions can be invaluable; for finding the right solution and continuing to demonstrate that you are a safe pair of hands, and ears for someone to come and discuss their problems.  If you tell people what to do, they will be less engaged in the solution and may well dis-engage from you as they feel you’re not invested in helping them.

The Boomerang Effect

The flip side of ‘don’t tell me what to do!’ is ‘please tell me what to do!’ because sometimes it’s easier to use someone else’s brain than engage your own.  If people ask you questions and you offer them quick-fire solutions they are almost guaranteed to keep mithering you as they will not be invested in the solution, will keep coming back to ask questions again and again, and are less likely to use their own brain when they can easily access someone else’s.  It’s just human nature that we’ll all do that.  By telling someone what to do when they ask for help, you send them away in the short term but they will boomerang right back to ya as soon as something else goes wrong.  It can almost create a dependency and some people keep things that way because then they feel needed.  They have to be there, otherwise everyone will struggle to do their jobs or get to work or clean the house, or plan a trip.  It feeds their self-esteem but it’s not an effective technique in the long term ☹

The Longer Way Works Well In The Long Term

The question “what do you think you should do?” takes longer but it does help people to engage with the solution and remember it.  If I can use your brain instead of my own all the time, I don’t need to remember anything, I’ll just keep asking you over and over.  Not good.  Teaching people allows them to develop their skills and so after a while they don’t need you any more.  That gives you more time to do your own thing, whether that’s inside of work or outside of it.  Think of parents who guide, teach and support their children.  The children reach an age eventually when they think they know it all, that their parents have no value or use to them any more and they can’t understand how their parents ever managed to exist in the world anyway!  At that point, your job as a parent is done!! 😉  I’m joking of course but teaching people how to do things and helping them to find their own answers is great for your self-esteem.  You don’t need to create dependencies; watching people learn, grow and move on is a fabulous thing.  There will always be more people to guide and teach believe me 😊

Don’t Offer Your Own Solutions

So you’ve built a trusting relationship with someone and they ask to talk you about something they’re struggling with.  They give you the details of what’s happening and how that’s having an impact on them.  What do you do next?  It’s very tempting at that point to say “what I would do is….” but if you can, resist that urge.  If someone asks what you would do, try to divert them back to their own thoughts.  “Let’s not focus on what I’d do for now, let’s stick with how you’re managing with things and think about possible next steps”.  If people are really struggling, they will try to avoid the difficult thoughts and decisions they might need to make.  By asking what you’d do, they’re avoiding their own difficulties and the challenge of finding a way forward.

Helping people through difficult times can sometimes require periods of silence.  As I said in last week’s blog, don’t fill those silences with chatter.  Concentrated thinking is going on at that point and if you can keep the silence, you will support the other person to work through their difficulties, knowing they’re safe in your presence.  That’s a wonderful thing, to be able to create that environment 😊  The thing that these conversations require, is time and that can be difficult sometimes.  But if you start to wrap things up before the other person is ready, and start to tell them what to do, they may well dis-engage from you, as they trusted you with their feelings, doubts and anxieties, and now feel that you’ve got better things to be do apparently.  It really is a minefield!!  Although personally I would say it’s definitely worth it!

The Hard Work Takes Time

When I’ve worked with stress management clients in the past, I can almost guarantee that the real nub of the problem will come out after about 45 minutes.  I don’t take that as a reflection on my coaching and support abilities, just that people need to feel comfortable to share their deeper worries and anxieties.  Although one lady did launch into her story before her bum had even hit the chair so she just had a lot to get off her chest I guess!! 😉  In the workforce wellbeing sessions I’m delivering at the moment I explain to people that I do not have their wellbeing answers.  At which point they do look a tad crestfallen.  I swiftly move on to explain that the answers are with them, not me.  If I tell them what to do, those solutions will get lost in the ether very quickly.  Whereas if I can facilitate their thinking to find their own solutions, they are much more likely to invest in them and the solutions will become embedded in the individual’s consciousness and daily practices more readily. 

People have been telling me what to do in terms of diet and exercise for years but it made no difference!  I had to find my own way and that’s the gift that you can give to other people if you listen…listen a bit more…show that you’re listening and understand what’s being said, and then help them to find their own answers.  What’s right for you may well not work for them and who’s to say that one way has to be right and one has to be wrong.  It’s just different.  And if you can put your own solutions to the back of your mind and be open to whatever direction the conversation takes, you will definitely become a trusted pair of hands and ears, which is a truly magical gift to the person you’re supporting 😊

Take good care please, help other people find their own way and have a great day.

Best wishes, Karen