I was having a conversation with a co-worker the other day (see: an ambiguous approximation of time ago), when I was struck by something not-so profound, but (all the same) important.
When it comes to talking about our problems, you can see someone else in two different ways. You either see a person with a problem, or you see a problem with a person.
A Problem with a Person
The problem-first type see the problem before they see the person. They may even cut off the person explaining their problem in order to ‘fix it’ right away. If you are this type of person, you might face these types of issues in relationships.
You cut people off before you really understand the problem.
You are so excited to solve the problem, that you forget you are listening to a living, breathing person, and they aren’t finished speaking. Most problems are not as simple as we want them to be. They aren’t black and white.
Remind yourself: Slow down. Let them finish. Address the human element of the problem.
Your friend doesn’t really want their problem solved.
This is probably the hardest part of seeing the problem first (or only seeing the problem) because sometimes people just want to vent about their problems and hear that someone empathizes with them. But you don’t like this sentiment. There is a problem and it needs solving. The person will only feel better if you solve it for them. But here’s the deal: their problem is usually solvable by them. Many times someone knows what they have to do, and they’re just looking for a sympathetic ear to acknowledge their issue.
Remind yourself: Listen to them first. Offer sympathy. Ask if they’d like help.
A Person with a Problem
While acknowledging a person is the more important part of any relationship, this type of person can also create unhealthy frustrations. With a tendency to over-protect a person or a relationship, the person-first type won’t address the problem or will sugarcoat in such a way as to prove unhelpful or – worse than that – destructive to the other person or relationship. Here are just a couple of situations where the person-first type can cause damage.
Your friend truly needs a solution.
So many times a friend comes to you seeking a solution, but you only go as far as sympathy for their plight. You don’t address their problem, nor offer any help in finding the solution.
Remind yourself: There is a problem here. If you truly care about your friend, coworker, family member then you will offer help.
You worry about hurting their feelings.
Sometimes (most times) we bring problems on ourselves. Everybody makes mistakes, and sometimes we get stuck in problems because of it. The person-first type has a harder time telling harsh truth because they care about the person first and the solution second, and they don’t want to harm their relationship.
Remind yourself: Everybody makes mistakes. Understand your relationship with the other person. If you have the kind of relationship which allows you to tell them the truth, listen thoughtfully and tell them like it is. Don’t dilute the truth to protect a friendship because you will inevitably exacerbate their problem and could inevitably ruin the relationship anyway.
If you see yourself in either of these two types of people, acknowledge it and move forward. Bear in mind that there are others out there just like you, and you can use your techniques on them just fine! They will probably enjoy it!
Also, if you see someone else is behaving as the opposite type to who you are, cut them some slack. Either way, they probably like you and are doing the best they can to be helpful. If it’s becoming a problem in your relationship, have a conversation about these different types.
And finally, if you are having relationship issues (work, home or otherwise) look at the other person and see if you have conflicting styles. If you make the effort to match what they like, it can have a great effect. It may even open up a conversation to see how you both can serve each other better.