Have you shared something that was bothering you and the response was a suggestion? You weren’t asking for advice, you wanted to be heard. Just listening to someone is a tough skill to acquire. Responding with, “That sounds hard” or “You seem so sad” are ways we can simply sit with someone in their situation rather than jump to advice or problem solving. You might put me out of a job but I think it’s worth it!
The unsolicited suggestion can feel like a slap in someone’s face. It essentially invalidates a person’s experience. “Oh, so you’re having an experience and feeling an emotion around it but I want you to stop feeling that and do what I’m saying, because somehow I know what you need.” We are conditioned to do this. Most of us learned this behavior from our caregivers and influential people in our formative years. We jump into solve mode without even thinking about it. Men are often attributed with being the fixers but I have experienced women doing just as much of the fixing as men.
How do you change this? I always start with awareness any time we want to change a behavior. Notice when you are listening to people. Are you preparing their solution or really listening to understand? Are you judging what you’re hearing or seeking to grasp what it is like for this person to go through the experience? When the person stops, are you jumping in with a solution? Just notice, be aware of what you are thinking, feeling, saying and doing.
You probably won’t change right away, first you’ll notice how often you have a suggestion. Just keep paying attention to yourself and the way you respond to people. Ask yourself why you want to solve this person’s problem rather than listen to her. If the situation is not a literal life or death situation, practice not speaking your advice. Contemplate the idea that perhaps your suggestion isn’t what she wants to hear. Consider that she can get to a solution on her own and you can help her get there by listening and allowing her the freedom to work through it.
Over time, with intention, you can stop suggesting and focus on seeking to understand a person’s experience.