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Problem Solvers: Give It a Rest to Listen

"I understand. You are doing just fine."

Sometimes it feels good to hear reassurance.

Are you a problem solver? Do you ever find yourself in a conversation wanting to solve another person’s problem for them?

Other people's problems can seem so solvable – it’s as if we have been gifted with the ability to see the answers to all the problems that are not our own. Solving our own problems can be more difficult.

I am a problem solver – and mostly that is a good thing. People pay me to solve problems. My clients value problem solving and the process energizes me. It is my automatic response in many situations. However, it is important to note that sometimes people aren’t ready for a solution – sometimes “talking it out” is more important.

Recently, I found myself in a conversation with a dear friend who wanted to talk about a problem. Naturally, I went into problem solving mode and started offering solutions.

The “conversation” went on like this for a little while until my friend paused and said very gently, “You know all I need right now is for you to say, ‘I understand. You are doing just fine.’”


We both smiled and the conversation continued.

For the rest of the conversation, I shut off the problem-solving mode and practiced empathic listening instead (see listening tips below). Because the other person had been so clear about what they needed from me, I made an effort to convey my confidence in them by saying:

“I understand. You are doing just fine.”

The first time I said it we both laughed out loud, but at the same time, I could tell that it made the other person feel good. His shoulders seemed to relax; he smiled and continued to speak. I believed in the truth of the statement, so I said it again two more times – with sincerity and feeling. It was one of the most satisfying conversations I’ve had in a long time and all I did was listen - really listen.

We both left feeling wonderful. I felt grounded. He felt supported and confident.

I have utilized this same phrase with my children in their teen and young adult years; I use it with my husband and dear friends; I use it with clients when appropriate. I utilize this phrase because I believe in its truth.

While it seems easier to solve another person’s problems, we can often do much more by expressing our confidence in their ability to do so. And sometimes, it is important to let them “talk it out” and ask instead, “How can I help?”

So, the next time you find yourself in one of those conversations where the other person clearly needs to “talk it out,” try giving yourself a rest. Listen. And after a while, say the magic words we all long to hear:

"I understand. You are doing just fine."

"You have a good head on your shoulders. You’ll figure it out."

Sometimes we do need to figure things out on our own – always with dear friends at our back. Share this with someone you love.

© Kathy Sturgis, Ph.D. Kathy is founder of Refreshment Zone and is an organizational and personal development specialist with a doctorate in communication. Contact for more information on motivational programs.

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