Good advice whether you’re in mediation or not.
In my last post, I talked about the common qualities of good listeners; and how effective, intentional listening involves your ears, your eyes, your mind, your heart and your undivided attention. I also talked the fundamental need to be heard — which we all share.
That said, let’s assume you’ve mastered the art of listening intentionally — with all your senses. What do you do next?
Do as I say, not as I do.
Personally, I go straight into Problem Solving mode. It’s what I do for a living: Solve problems. I’d like to think I’m good at it. I enjoy doing it, and it’s how I help a lot of clients — as well as non-clients.
However, as a husband, I can tell you that problem-solving is rarely what my wife needs. Or wants. She just wants me to listen. Mostly with my mouth shut. When she needs my help to solve a problem (as she’s told me repeatedly), she’ll ask me.
Been there, done that.
Have you seen this YouTube Video? A woman with a two-inch spike driven into her forehead describes to her husband, in lengthy detail, the excruciating pain she’s experiencing. When he asks if it could be the nail, she angrily insists, “It’s not about the nail! Stop trying to fix it! That is not what I need!” It’s a perfect metaphor for how my wife and I often feel about each other’s approach to problem-solving.
Following my own advice. It actually works.
As a mediator, I have to resist the urge to jump-in with quick solutions. I can almost always help. But just as often, I need to listen first. Really listen!
When I’m truly listening, it focuses my interest and my empathy. When that happens, I can help people (clients or otherwise) solve their own problems. Numerous psychological studies have demonstrated that, in order for many disputes to be resolved and accepted, the solution at least needs to feel like it was their idea.
By listening, encouraging, and serving as a sounding board for ideas, I’m invariably more helpful than I am simply volunteering solutions. I have to admit, it’s unnatural for me to work that way. Sometimes, it’s all that I can do to keep my mouth shut — but years of experience has proven that it’s usually the most helpful thing I can do.
How about you?
If you’re an attorney, I suspect you consider yourself good problem solver. After all, it’s how you make a living as well. That said, next time you meet with a client, a spouse, an employee or a friend in conflict, ask yourself, “Should I just listen, rather than offering solutions — or maybe wait until they ask me for suggestions?”
Give it a try and let me know how it goes. Good luck!