How to Improve Your Relationships With Others

I like to solve problems.  There’s nothing like a good mystery or puzzle or riddle.  Figuring things out gives me a lot of pleasure; finding a solution is pure elation.  It took me a long time to realize that’s not always the approach to take.

Learning this lesson is entirely thanks to my history of relationships, including my current one.  There’s a lot of people who take a sexist route, with the argument I am about to make, and I’m sure I’ll slip into some of it, myself.  But I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.

All of us can think of instances where people come to us with problems, we try to help, and we subsequently make things worse.  Often, to our shock and amazement.  “But…I just wanted to help…”

We forget that not everyone needs the type of help we are prescribing.  Signals are frequently misinterpreted by us, because the signals are complex and we are a biased observer.  Many people hear of someone having a problem and try to offer solutions: that’s my M.O.  Others will offer support and consolation, which does very little for someone like me.  If I complain, I want answers, not a hug; so when I hear someone complain, I often respond with that same mentality.

That way is frequently wrong, because I forget that not everyone is looking for what I am looking for.  Many people just want to have their problems heard, understood, and feel that someone sympathizes.  I’ve done my best to adopt the following strategy, as flawed as it may be.

When people come to me with problems, I try to remember to ask (early-on), “Do you want me to help solve this problem, or do you want me to listen to you and support you?”

Many people are taken aback by this, because they are also in their own heads, in terms of what they want and how they feel is an appropriate response to what they are saying.  Some people will tell you to fuck off, whether because they think you are a utilitarian asshole, or because they genuinely don’t know the answer to that question.  Or they’re just mad that you don’t seem to understand them or what they want.

If you find yourself in situations where people come to you with problems, complaints, troubles, issues, or really any negative vibe: ask them what they want.  Don’t be an ass about it – ask with genuine concern what they would like you to do.  If you can adhere to what they ask for, you will be of great value.

Women and men: take note here.  Women always talk about how they want a guy who is a good listener – but how often do you hear them say they want a guy who is a good problem-solver?  Conversely, how often do you hear men complain about women who don’t do anything to help them solve their problems, and offer up support, instead?  Sexist paragraph over.

I hope you consider all this, the next time you have a problem, or the next time you hear of someone else’s.  If you talk to someone about a problem, save them the trouble of failing you (since they probably don’t know what you now know): tell them, from the start, “I have a problem, and I’d like your help.  This is what I need from you; can you help me?”  Whether it’s help fixing it or just emotional support over it, tell the person right up-front.  You’ll be amazed at how much your relationships improve.

2 thoughts on “How to Improve Your Relationships With Others

  1. “Do you want me to help solve this problem, or do you want me to listen to you and support you?”

    This is profound! Great thought man. Also I find that women generally just want you to listen, whereas men either want advice or assume that the person wants advice. I think it is big reason who the sexes don’t understand one another.

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