What’s your typical response when someone shares a frustration, problem, or issue with you? Or when they state an opinion or desire you disagree with?
Sometimes we get impatient, exasperated, or annoyed with them and simply don’t want to hear it.
Sometimes we get mad. Or defensive. And want to line them out.
Sometimes, however, we want to help.
And wouldn’t you know it, but we sometimes cause as many problems with that last reaction as the first two.
How can this be?
Your teenage daughter comes home and expresses disappointment about something that happened at school, and you want to help. How in the world could that be wrong?
Your spouse shares a frustration about something that happened with a friend, and you don’t want him or her to be sad. This is a bad thing?
Your coworker expresses annoyance with a program management is trying to implement, and you know exactly what will fix the problem and want to share it. This is going to cause problems?
In their fabulous book, I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better: Six Practical Principles that Empower Others to Solve Their Own Problems While Enriching Your Relationships, Gary and Joy Lundberg show two different ways of acting on the desire to help others that have dramatically different results. If we try to help using the first method, we actually create more issues. We will make the person less willing to talk to us, introduce strain into the relationship, and create a lot of stress for ourselves. On the other hand, if we try to help using the second method, we’ll find the person more willing to talk. There will be more friendliness in the relationship. And our own stress will go way down. Furthermore, we’ll end up helping the person far more than we ever could with the first method.
Gary is a licensed marriage and family therapist. His wife Joy is a writer and lyricist, and they have held marriage retreats, firesides, and seminars throughout the country. And the six principles they share in the book for using the second method all revolve around accepting this one statement: “I do not have the power to make anything all better for anyone else. I can offer my help, but I cannot make it all better.”
Accepting this view has a dramatic impact on how we approach helping others.
So when the teenage daughter comes in and expresses disappointment, instead of trying get her to buck up or tell her she just needs to do xyz with her friends, or do 123 in sports practice, we listen, validate her emotions, leave the responsibility for the problem where it belongs—with her!—and then, when it’s all out, offer to help in a way that empowers her, not have us take over.
When the spouse shares frustration, it’s the same. When the coworker expresses annoyance, the same. When someone comes in to complain to us, it’s the same.
What the Lungbergs do in this book is show exactly what this looks like with tons and tons of examples. They even have a whole chapter (a short one) which gives a list of validating phrases and questions. The first six chapters of the book explain the principles. The last eight each apply them to a different group: young children, teenagers, adult children, spouses, parents and parents-in-law, friends, and coworkers.
Folks, this book is a gem. It’s loaded with wisdom and insight. Every time I practice what’s in here, my interactions go better. This stuff produces immediate results. I just wished I’d studied and practiced it more. But it’s never too late. And that’s why I’m rereading it now.
And why I wanted to share it here. If you want to improve your interactions with others and enrich your relationships, do yourself a favor and immediately go get this book.