Do you want sympathy or solutions? 🎁Mar 13, 2022
It has taken me a long time to realize it, but I am an annoying problem solver.
My friend and I met for coffee recently and she was telling me about major drama she was having with her romantic partner. She felt that she wasn’t being heard, that the household decisions were always about him, that she was bored and listless and frustrated - and so was he. I listened and asked questions until I felt I understood the situation a little better. I was increasingly worried that their relationship was falling apart. Yet I knew how much they loved each other amidst their differences.
I rolled up my sleeves and proceeded to solve the problem for her. 🦸♀️
“In my experience,” I began, and proceeded to “blah blah blah” my brilliant solutions at her.
When I came up for air, she responded, “Yah, but…” and she told me why that wouldn’t work.
“Ok, how about…” and I offered another ingenious yet compassionate suggestion.
“No, you see,” she retorted, “that doesn’t solve…”
It went on like this for a few minutes and we were both getting irritated. Finally the light bulb went off above my head.
“I’m so sorry, I should have started with a different question,” I said and looked her in the eyes.
“Do you want sympathy or solutions?”
We stared at each other for two seconds and then burst into laughter. It was the joint realization that she really just needed to get some sh*t off her chest - and that I really just needed to listen.
This is something I didn’t do very well when I was married. When he came home and started telling me about a bad day, I usually jumped right into trying to fix things. “Did you try this?” I’d offer. “How about talking to so-and-so?” My husband was looking to me for sympathy and instead he got an earful of advice.
I’m still learning this lesson but I am getting better at ascertaining if folks want sympathy or solutions. And if it’s sympathy they want, it can be as simple as saying, “Wow, that sucks. I’m sorry you’re going through this.”
I invite you to try this next time someone sits down with a problem that needs solving. Let me know how it goes.
PS: I was just blown away by the feedback a student just sent me, and I had to share it with you:
“This week, I have been feeling a growing sense of empowerment thanks to your Divide Not Conquer videos and financial spreadsheet. More than just practical, DNC is bringing me back to myself. The final spreadsheet tab brought me to tears - when did I stop dreaming?” - Julie, student in Divide Not Conquer
Image above: BNF Français 343 Queste del Saint Graal - Tristan de Léonois -Quest for the Holy Grail
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