Ears, Hands, or Brains?

Today’s Lesson: What type of conversation are you having? Listening, Fixing, or Advising?


I see problems and solutions everywhere I look. When you spend years as a trainer, leader, or coach, you train yourself to quickly identify holes in the game and think through possible solutions.

Most of the time this is a strength but it can also backfire. Sometimes people share problems with me, because they want someone to listen. They are not seeking my advice or any solution. They just want to vent. Sometimes I just want to vent with no expectation of resolving something. I understand where they are coming from.

Still, when most conversations in your life are centered around providing answers or advice, it becomes incredibly difficult to know when someone only wants to be heard (and to listen while withholding advice).

I thought this was one of my personal challenges until today. I was in a meeting where two other peers and I were offering several solutions to an issue a coworker just shared. One of my peers said to the frustrated coworker, “I bet you are upset because you just wanted to be heard but you offered a problem to us three and we can’t help but try to solve it! It’s the hero complex. We want to come to the rescue. My wife has the same issue with me.”

“Yes!” she exclaimed, “Exactly. Maybe I need to tell you before we start a conversation if I want you to listen with your ears, hands, or brains.”

I love that. It would be so helpful if, when starting a conversation, the person speaking simply prompted, “Ears”–indicating all I want you to do is listen.¬†Or, “Hands”–I’m not looking for conversation, I just want you to fix this. Or “Brains”–will you think through this with me and offer your advice or thoughts about it?

Ears, Hands, or Brains. What kind of conversation are we having?