Does hearing “I told you so” aggravate you as much as it does me? Isn’t it frustrating to watch someone else continually ignore your advice when you know it would solve their problems? If you answered yes, read on, this post is for you.
As humans, our brains are naturally resistant to manipulation for our protection. That means we are programmed to reject ideas that we don’t generate for ourselves. Simply, we need to come to our own conclusions to direct our behaviors.
This feature is hard-wired into our nervous systems for good reason; it has enabled us to survive as best we can in our natural environments. It does however block us from hearing information that might help us.
In other words, if you tell someone else what they need to do, they aren’t going to do it, even if it’s the perfect solution for their problem or situation because they didn’t figure it out themselves. To offer someone the advise you know they need, guide them to discover it themselves instead, by asking questions that will direct them to the right answer.
Asking the right questions is the best way to resolve any problem for yourself, or someone else. Check out The Solution to Any Problem You Can’t Shake for more on this.
In this example, a Father is trying to tell his son to speak to his supervisor:
Father: “Son, you have to be upfront with him, and tell him that you deserve to be heard.”
Son: “Dad, he’s not going to listen to me.”
Father: “Thats why you need to TELL him that you should be heard”
Son: “Dad, the man doesn’t care! He’s not going to hear me say anything, because he doesn’t LISTEN to me!”
Father: “Listen, kid, you’re never going to get where you want to go unless you stand up to this @sshole.”
The Father is right, his son needs to find a way to be heard if he wants to get ahead, but he hasn’t given him any useful advice to do this. It would seem that the Son has the same problem with his Father as he does with his boss.
This type of pattern is very common, and difficult for both Father and Son to notice. The Son considers his Boss’s behavior to be “normal,” as he is used to being told what to do instead of heard by his own father.
Moreover, the Father doesn’t realize that he is relating to his Son the same way the boss is, which is why all his well-meaning advice to his child will not help his son to handle the conflict he has with his boss differently. (More on patterns of relating in a future post.) He calls his son’s boss a name, attributing blame for the problem elsewhere. None of what the father has said will help his child.
Hearing the conversation, the Mother steps in:
Mom: “Why doesn’t your Boss listen to you?”
Son: “He thinks he knows everything.”
Mom: “Well, how can you show him you have information that might be useful?”
Son: “I suppose I could ask if he has considered the factors I know he hasn’t.”
Mom: “But how will you do that, if he wont listen to you?”
Son: “He likes to make all the decisions, and if I ask him if he thinks something else is relevant in order to make it, he’ll tell me why it is or isn’t relevant to consider.”
Mom: “How is that approach different from what you’ve been doing?”
Son: “I have been trying to TELL him what he isn’t addressing, which seems to annoy him and he dismisses anyway, but if I ask instead, he’ll probably answer my questions, and also consider what I’m saying.”
Mom: “I think thats a good approach! What else could you try, if that doesn’t do it?”
Son: “Well, I could also ask HOW he arrived at his decision to understand how he thinks better.”
Mom: “What do you think that would do to help you be considered?”
Son: “Well, I’ll understand what is important to him in making decisions, so I’ll be able to contribute more of the type of things he’s looking for in future situations.”
Mom: “Why do you think that will help?”
Son: “I think it will show him that I’m interested in learning from him, and that I respect him.”
Mom: “So you think if he feels respected and understood, that he will listen to you?”
Mom: “Why do you think this way is better than how you have been doing it?”
Son: “I think he felt like I was trying to show him I know more than him, which I know I don’t, but I see why he wasn’t responding to me now.”
Mom: “Well, I think your right, and these new ways of approaching him are worth a shot! You may also want to consider asking him what he needs you to look into for him, so you can be sure that what you give him is of value to him.”
Son: “Yes, thats also good. I will try all these things.”
The Mother was able to help her Son generate new solutions, by understanding where he was running into trouble, while the Father simply added to his frustration and doubt. Additionally, asking her Son questions and allowing him to consider the dynamic he couldn’t separate from, the son was able to see why he wasn’t getting the results he intended for himself, without attributing any blame to his boss.
After listening to her son’s ideas, she was able to suggest an additional strategy he might consider, that was in-line with his goals and the solutions he had already identified on his own. He was able to accept it, because she offered it to him as something he could choose for himself, or reject.
The way you present solutions to another is more important than what you’re actually saying. Remember this next time you try to influence someone to change what they are doing. Instead of “here’s what you need to do,” ask “would this help?”
When you allow people to chose for themselves how to respond to their challenges, everyone wins. If you tell them what they need to do, you take away their power to come to their own conclusions and be successful. Adding “I told you so” makes you right, them wrong, and adds insult to injury.
Have you tried this? How does it change your ability to help another solve a problem?