My old friend had a famous catchphrase.
If I complained that my baby wasn’t sleeping well, she’d say, “What are you looking for? Do you want problem solving or sympathy? Because I’ve got both in my toolkit.”
When another friend of ours mentioned that family drama was getting her down, this friend would say, “What do you need: a shoulder to cry on, or advice?”
At first my friend’s questions struck me as tactless: I wasn’t used to coming right out and saying what I wanted.
But my friend was sassy and fun: we all knew her heart was in the right place. And to my surprise, I found I appreciated her straightforward approach. She listened well and gave great advice–but only if you asked her for it.
My friend moved out of town years ago, but I always think about her when I’m talking with a friend and find myself wishing she would just tell me what she wants from me. Often, I just ask: “What are you looking for?” Sometimes straight out asking doesn’t seem appropriate, so instead of asking I just wonder what response she’s hoping for, and hope that I’m able to help.
Sometimes I’ll be talking to a friend and she’ll hint at bad news–and hint and hint. I’m not really sure if she wants me to ask what’s up, or if she’s veiling her meaning because she needs to keep it a secret. In moments like those, I wish she could just tell me what she’s looking for: does she need a little empathy, so she doesn’t feel like she’s struggling all alone? Does she need a shoulder to cry on, or advice? I could be a better friend if she’d just tell me what she wants.
Sometimes it’s easy to put my old friend’s conversational strategy into practice. My husband’s had a stressful season at work, and I recently realized that my reactions to his daily report might be fueling his stress instead of helping him. So, I asked him: when he comes home after a difficult day, what response would he like from me? He said to please just listen and say, “Golly, that sounds tough.” I’m glad I asked, because that is not what I’d been saying!
I’ll often frame conversations by starting with “I’m looking for advice” or “Listen to how hard my day was” so my listener knows what I’m looking for and can help me out. Sometimes, I’m not sure what I’m looking for when the conversation starts, and that’s when “help me think through this” are magic words.
When you’re talking with others, do you tell them what you’re looking for? Do you ask them what they’d like from you? Share your thoughts in comments.
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