love and friendship concept

How to Become a Shoulder to Lean On


Hands up, who’s a problem solver? I know I am, my engineering education quickly kicks in when I am presented with a problem. It feels good to be a problem solver doesn’t it? Does it always work? Not likely. Read on to find out when being a “problem solver” is actually a problem. If you know when to step back you rise from “annoying know-it-all” to “ultimate sensitive listener”.

When I think back on my own life I remember lots of times when I have been talking to girlfriends or friends that have ended in frustration. We have both walked away from the conversation feeling either annoyed or misunderstood. The reason I have been annoyed has been something like “why did you ask for my advice if you’re not gonna listen to it at all?”.

The root of the problem is quite simple although not obvious. When we tell someone about our problems we are sometimes seeking support more than a solution. This applies to all people, we just don’t realize it.

The big turn around for me was when I attended management training a number of years ago. The title was “Professional Communications”. Basically what they thought us was how to really pay attention to the other person and use very simple techniques to allow the other person to become very clear. I have already written about one of these tools before. What I realised was that if I REALLY listen I will notice what the other person is looking for. I also realised that a lot of times the other person is not looking for a solution from you but pure support. After this realisation a lot of conversations when much smoother, people felt I supported them and also started seeing me as a good listener.

So here is what you do. The next time somebody comes to you with a problem and you feel a solution forming in the back of your mind tell yourself to stop. Stop and listen, use your instinct, is the person looking for a quick answer or is he/she looking for support. The first couple of times you may find this difficult but it gets easier. Every time you manage to stop yourself and adjust you strengthen this beahvior. Before you know it you have become a zen master of support, the ultimate rock to lean on!

As you can see, it doesn’t take much to become much more supportive. It is well worth the effort.

What are your tips on becoming a more supportive friend/spouse/collegue? Share your thoughts below or via e-mail.