Slice of Sunshine —Solving is Not Always the Solution

So many people are facing tough times.

This means many of us are finding ourselves in the position of being supporters for loved ones, helping those who are in distress and in need of resources and comfort.

When connecting with a dear one facing adversity, my intention is to be a supportive listener and open-hearted, non-judgmental confidant.

However, solutions are my jam. I love to break down whatever is, well, breaking down, and then shift towards coming up with solutions that are implementable and practical.

My “fix it” mentality often overwhelms my intent.

I suspect I am not alone. Many of us default towards offering counsel or advice, wanting to help our pal (and, frankly, ourselves) out of discomfort. Our “see the problem/fix the problem” mindset may kick in, or we may consciously believe that by offering solutions we are being the best supporter we can be. But suggesting solutions is not always the answer and may actually be its own problem.

I’d like to (un-ironically, if possible) offer this suggested solution to the solution suggestion problem.

Dog with huge ears being held open by two people.
Gus has wide open ears.


There’s an old motto in the communication nerd world: we have two ears and one mouth so that we listen twice as much as we speak. (One of the other oft-quoted axioms is cited at the end of this newsletter.)

It is difficult to sit and just listen—especially when things are hard, especially with someone we love, especially when we feel like we need to DO something.

But the times that I have successfully and actively listened I end up being a part of the solution more effectively than any of my other “solutions” would suggest.

As with almost every tool I suggest in the Slice of Sunshine newsletter, you’ll need to practice awareness (see “Try it!” below) and of course, if someone asks you to offer solutions or suggestions, have at it!

But committing to listening instead of solving as your first intention may be a helpful frame. As Gus models in the picture above, wide open ears may be the actual solution.

Try it!

Noticing Solution Mode

It isn’t easy. We find ourselves in a conversation with someone who is in distress, and as noted above, we just want to help. So what do we do if we want to avoid the solution suggestion quagmire? Here are a few things to notice, questions to ask yourself, or behaviors to track.

-Am I using phrases like “You should” or “I think”?
-What is my current ear-to-mouth ratio?
-Are most of the words in this space that of the person I am supposed to be supporting?
-Am I rushing to solve out of my own discomfort?
-What is the person asking of me right now, in this moment?
-Am I centering my own truth rather than theirs?

(other) Smart People

“The word listen contains the same letters as the word silent .”—Alfred Brendel


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Try it!