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Productivity / Problem solving

Problem solving skills: Why support is better than advice

Have you noticed how many 'fixers' there are out there? These are the people who can’t wait to give you advice at the first sign of any uncertainty. But can someone else really have answers which will make your life perfect?

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Just quietly, I’m a bit over the idea that there are blanket problem solving solutions to individual problems. Maybe what works really well for you is not necessarily right for me.

I’m not suggesting I can do it all alone or that I’ve got everything sorted. Far from it. I need support as much the next person. What I don’t need, though, is ‘fixing’.

You see, I might really admire you and love your work, but if I’m just trying to emulate your success I may never find the myriad threads that weave the intricate and unique story of who I am. My very own story, with all its peaks and troughs, its painful stumbling blocks, its moments of grace and glory, is mine and mine alone.

It is my life’s work to create and experience the story of who I am. If I just do what you tell me to do, I’m handing over my creativity, my power, and my belief in my ability to be the author of my own life.

When you tell me what to do, the message you’re sending is you know better than me how to tell the story of who I am. You’re showing a lack of faith in my ability to sort out my own issues, to solve my problems or find my own answers.

The best mentors I’ve had have been ‘supporters’ rather than ‘fixers’. They’re the ones who’ve said: “What do you think?” when I’ve asked for advice. When I’ve been going through a rough patch, they’ve said: “I see this is difficult for you; I know you can get through it. I’m here with you”.

"The best mentors I’ve had have been ‘supporters’ rather than ‘fixers’. "

They heard me. They told me they saw me and they acknowledged and encouraged me. The message here was,“I believe in your capacity to work through this. I know you have the resources”. This has been far more valuable to me than “Listen to me – I know what you should do!”

Want more articles like this? Check out the problem solving section.

Knowing what it’s like to be on the receiving end of both approaches, I work hard at being in the ‘supporter’ category. When I catch myself telling someone what to do, I stop, make amends, and reframe my comments in a way that puts responsibility back in the hands of the person to whom it truly belongs. And amazing things happen, things that would not be possible if I simply offered a solution or tried to direct a course of action.

Supporters understand that there’s room for your story to unfold in a way that they couldn’t possibly script for you – they know they have neither the right nor the responsibility.

What’s more, in this environment a mutual meeting place is created where an authentic and intimate connection is possible. There’s no power struggle here. There are no assumptions at play about who is right or wrong; smart or stupid; having or lacking; teacher or student.

Often our stories are pedestrian in their ordinariness, other times they are truly remarkable. Whatever the case on any given day, we have a right to own those stories and a responsibility to create them ourselves. I think we need all the support from on another that we can get.

But no matter how broken we might seem, we do not need someone else to fix us.

Kath O'Sullivan

is a writer, editor and facilitator who helps people find their authentic voice and use it to tell the stories of who they are.

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