The Art Of Listening Tip 2: Don’t Fix


Imagine you are in conversation with a friend. She’s been telling you about how she’s had cold symptoms for a month, and can’t seem to shift them. Perhaps you tell her she should go to the doctor, and get some antibiotics. Or you mention a really amazing natural remedy of fresh ginger, turmeric and black pepper that will shift it within hours (I have tried it and it’s pretty good ;).

That is fixing. And we all do it. We want to help our friends and share what’s worked for us. And that’s fine. There’s a time and a place for sharing advice and good information in our regular everyday conversations.

But when we do listening time as part of our Hand in Hand Parenting practise, we refrain from trying to fix our partner’s situation. We keep our good advice to ourselves.

Here’s why. We don’t just try to fix because of good intentions. We also try to fix because of our unconscious urge to try and stop people from expressing emotions. We’ve all grown up in a culture where expression of emotion is not completely acceptable. When we were children our parents often tried to stop our tears by ‘fixing’ our problems, not understanding that listening to our tears was often part of the solution.

When we leap in with a solution to somebody’s problems it’s often because we are unconsciously repeating the way we were treated in our childhood. We want to stop the expression of feeling by offering our solutions, because we are uncomfortable with their emotions.

The trouble with fixing, is that often what makes a problem hard is a person’s emotional reaction to it. Say a parent can’t figure out how to get their son to sleep at night. It’s not just a matter of telling that parent what kind of routine worked for you. There may be deep-seated reasons why this particular parent is struggling with bedtime. Perhaps they were left frequently left alone to cry it out as a baby or toddler, and this emotional hurt is clouding their vision when it comes to helping their own child.

That parent needs much more than a practical solution. They need someone to listen to help them heal the hurt that is clouding their thinking . The science behind it is that when our own childhood feelings get triggered our limbic system  gets flooded and we experience an ’emotional emergency.’ When this happens our pre-frontal cortex can’t function well which makes logical thought, and decision making hard. If someone steps in and offers advice it can be hard to take it when we can’t think straight. And since everyone’s life is different. What works for one person may not work for another.

A far more effective approach is to simply listen to that person. To allow them to follow the natural flow of their own words and feelings, so that they can release their upset, and think clearly again. After that they’ll often be able to figure out what to do and fix the situation themselves. Or they’ll go searching for some useful information that might help. We are the best experts on our own lives.

So that’s why we don’t fix in listening time.  We can also employ the technique of simply listening in conversations too. Next time someone is chatting to you and mentions a problem, notice how quickly possible solutions jump into your head. How easy is it refrain from saying them? Like everyone else I do find myself with the strong urge to ‘fix’ my friend’s problems, but I also try to listen too. I had the idea the other day that it might be good to employ a 80/20 principle to our everyday conversations, listening for 80% of the time, and sharing good information 20% of the time. It’s not easy, but it has many benefits. Our friendships will deepen when we can stay present to people’s emotions.

Discover more about the art of listening in Hand in Hand parenting’s Building A Listening Partnership course. 


4 thoughts on “The Art Of Listening Tip 2: Don’t Fix

  1. This is me… Ms fix-it.
    I think it all depends on who is talking to me. Generally I’m told I’m a good listener, empathic and all. However there is a certain breed of people, and I admit I consider them to be whiners. They keep talking about the same problems, and they ASK for advice, yet they never seem to do anything to improve their situation… I don’t have the patience to deal with them long-term, so I just nod and smile.

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