Scenario: Wife is unloading on her husband about her friend whom she's irritated with. Mid unloading husband says, "I think you should just be done with her." Feeling misunderstood, Wife yells, "What are you talking about?!?!!!" And then, SUDDENLY and seemingly out of nowhere, the husband is hit by a LARGE emotional 2x4 when all her irritation about the friend situation is suddenly directed at HIM!
In shock and disbelief he might say something like, "I was just trying to help!!!"
That's the thing with unsolicited advice: when you offer it, suddenly YOU become her problem.
He'll probably be accused of "not listening" or scolded that he "never listens." And the pattern of attack/defense, attack/defense takes off. The conversation ends and the argument begins....and nobody wins.
Just because someone is venting doesn't mean he/she is asking for advice.
And that advice or "helpfulness" can carry with it the non-verbal message: "I don't think you're capable of figuring this out, so I'm gonna fix it for you."
Now you can understand why this statement would result in an argument; sometimes receiving unsolicited advice feels like you were just called an idiot.
For some people active listening is HARD. When I was first becoming skilled at active listening it felt like I was DOING NOTHING. I thought, "How is THIS going to help??"
In my counseling graduate program we were video taped with clients and these tapes were reviewed by our supervisors...pretty intense. I really stunk at active listening in the beginning. My supervisor pointed out every instance in the video where my "fix it" mentality shut my client down more and more and didn't create emotional intimacy or trust. I could see in that video replay how my words were making her feel worse; not better.
My supervisor told me that in my next session I was ONLY allowed to paraphrase what my client was telling me....for a WHOLE HOUR. So, I could ONLY repeat back to her, in my own words, what she was saying. My heart SANK. I had no idea how I was going to to such a ridiculous thing. I thought my client would look at me like I had sprouted a unicorn horn.
But now I can say that ridiculous hour may have been one of the most life-changing hours in my life.
During that hour it went against every conversational habit I had acquired throughout my entire life to continue to reflect my client's words, thoughts, and feelings.
But the craziest thing happened. The more I paraphrased, the deeper she went into the topic and she became more relaxed and seemed to feel more relief.
As I got clearer about how she felt and why this was hard for her...she did, too. I would paraphrase wrong, "So you were irritated?" and she would get super-clear with a statement like, "Well, I actually think I was really hurt."
She reported feeling "so much better" with more clarity about what she needed. When our session was over she went out into her world and made some serious changes....none of which I had suggested. I was blown away.
I felt like I had some sort of SUPER POWER. I tried it out at home, with friends and family members. I tried it instead of attacking my husband back:
Him: "YOU don't respect MY time!! It's like I'm 9th on YOUR list!!"
Me: ** going against every cell in my body to verbally attack him back for this statement and compile my stack of evidence to the contrary ** "So, you don't feel like you're important to me?"
Him: ** noticeably bewildered, and more calm ** "Yes....."
Me: "I hate that you feel that way. It was never my intent for you to feel like you didn't matter to me. What do you need to feel differently?"
On that day my husband was throwing a tantrum because he needed time....and he expected me to mind-read his need. The conversation above helped us get to the REAL issue SUPER-fast instead of going on a rampage with the themes of "I'm not important to you" vs. "Yes you are"...I hope you can see how that conversation would have gone nowhere fast. It's perspective vs. perspective and arguments can spin here forever with no resolution.
My tactic didn't work at first...I had to be persistent.
Him: "YOU.....(more attack)!!!!"
Me: "What do you need?" **on repeat
He finally admitted he needed time to do some important things with his business and to finish our taxes. I had no idea. I said, "GO!! Take as much time as you need! It sounds like you need to get this stuff off your plate to feel better."
He said his need out loud (with some repetitive prompting...this is hard for most people). I honored his need by offering time. He took the time he needed. He came back. Under our relationship rug was clean. The end.
SO...I hope I've conveyed and even convinced you that really skilled listening can be a real game-changer. It has the power to get relationships back on track SO QUICKLY!
Listening is such an important skill for relationship well-being. But here's the thing: SO IS the skill of REQUESTING just LISTENING WHEN THAT's WHAT YOU NEED.