Stop trying to solve my problems!

“I try to listen without giving solutions but I just don't understand why my staff keep telling me their problems if they don't want me to fix them.”

I hear this A LOT from my clients. Particularly those that are working on developing a coaching approach in their leadership style, and are trying to replace telling with questioning. What makes this situation even trickier is that the staff members themselves don't always know what they want from their managers when it comes to listening.

People discuss their issues at work (and at home) for many reasons, including:

a/ they want it to be solved

b/ they want someone to commiserate with them

c/ they want support or

d/ they just need someone to vent to

All of these outcomes require a different response, and therefore, a different listening contract up front. 

The way we experience communication has as much to do with how we think people are upholding their side of the communication contract, as it does with any imparting of information. If people don't know what the implicit listening contract is, then it sets all parties up for disappointment.

Unless we know the person we are speaking with really well (and even that doesn't always help), we need to let our listeners in on what we want from them. We need to set up the listening contract before we begin the conversation so the other person can a/ choose if they want to be a part of it (perhaps they’ve heard enough about your problems ;) ) and b/ know how to frame their listening from the outset.

As a professional coach I have an explicit listening contract with my clients. We talk about my role in the coaching conversations up front. My job is not to solve problems. It’s not to gossip about the tough customer from last week. It’s to challenge thinking and explore assumptions. It’s to increase awareness of self and of others, and to provide direct feedback when necessary. I know my listening contract when I’m with a client and I know it’s agreed between us. It makes it easy for me to really ‘hear’ my client because I know what I’m listening for and what they expect from me in the conversation.

Coaching tips:

  • What’s your listening contract with your team, your peers, your partner or children?

  • Do you know when it’s time to switch from one style to another? (solutions, empathy, comfort, challenge, sounding board, etc)

  • How can you encourage people to signpost their listening needs?

  • How often do you frame your listening needs for others? Do they know what you want from them? Do you even know what you want from them?

  • How can you get clear on the listening frame you want from others and how to tell them?