From an early age, I learned that normal human interactions go like this: someone brings you a problem, and you help them solve it. And, the more you can help people solve their problems the better person you are.
The result of this was that most of my conversations were shallow and heavy. People would tell me their issues and instead of listening to them, I’d simply be thinking about what brilliant answer I’d give them so I could look good. Unfortunately, the conversations were never that rewarding because I felt the stress of always have to give good advice and the other person never felt heard. Nobody really got their needs met. Sound familiar? Fortunately, I’ve since changed my belief.
The old belief many of us hold is that conversations are meant to solve problems. So every interaction is basically a dialogue about an issue, a situation, or a relationship that needs fixing. There is no connection, no intimacy, and no discovery. It causes us to have superficial and stressful relationships.
I now hold the belief that most conversations are simply for connection. I learned this a long time ago after about 8 years of marriage. Finally, my wife came to me and said “can you simply listen to me and stop trying to solve my issues?” In that season I learned a technique and before each conversation I’d ask my wife “Honey, are you coming to me to connect or for advice?”. I’ll save you the test yourself—the answer 95% of the time was to connect. Shortly thereafter I stopped asking and now I simply assume every conversation is to connect, until she asks otherwise.
One of the biggest benefits to this new belief is that my conversations are deeper and less stressful. I’m free to listen and not think about my response. I get to learn more about people by asking questions not proposing solutions. I win and they win. They feel heard and I get to connect and learn more about people. And I don’t carry the burden of always having to be people’s solution guru. This is great leadership.
You may be thinking that this is great for personal relationships, but as a CEO or Leader most of the time people do come to me wanting to solve their problem. Well, let me challenge that belief. If I am your employee and I know you like to solve problems, then if I want to connect with you, all I have to do is bring you my problem. And it’s in this context that you’re actually attracting more problems to you. When I coach my private clients I teach them to stop allowing employees to come with problems, but instead bring solutions. The conversation then becomes about the employee’s ideas for solutions and not their own. The employee feels more valued and heard, and the leader carries less of a burden. It’s a win-win.
So here is my challenge to you: take the next 3 conversations you have, and instead of thinking about solving a problem, listen and ask profound questions and connect with the person. See what it feels like to remove the burden of having to sound smart and be helpful, and instead ask questions and learn about why the situation is meaningful and what they think they can do about it.
Watch the video for more context and a story about a CEO I met who shifted his belief: