So last week, we got into conversation about problem-solving at the office. And, like all good conversations, it turned into a battle of the sexes.
Background: A male co-worker having gotten into a heated discussion at home the previous night, asks a female co-worker why females get mad when they share a problem with a male and he offers solutions. Another male co-worker chimes in and says because women just want you to sit there and listen to them complain. The female co-worker retaliates by saying that not all problems need fixing and that men are obsessed with taking care of things. She moves on to point out that many times women already work out a solution for themselves and are merely looking for a sympathetic ear. This prompts male co-worker #1 to yell,”That’s absolutely irrational! Sitting here and listening to you complain is a complete waste of time. If I see you have a problem, and I care about you, then I will try to help you figure it out. End of story.”
Personally, here’s how I see it. Every time someone comes at you with a problem, you have to determine what they ultimate want out the encounter: either an exchange of solutions and ideas or an ear that listens. You can’t just automatically assume that either way is the right way to go. If you do, you risk not helping them, but making the matter even worse. With that said, some folks have a gift for sympathy while others have a gift for problem resolution and studies have shown that women skew more towards the former, while men skew towards the latter (How the two sexes get along is beyond me).
Ideally, it’s probably best to be good at both. That way, once you determine which is wanted or needed, you can effectively act. That day, I posited that it’s better to ask, “Do you want my advice?” before offering it up. It’s usually a pretty good indicator of what role needs to be filled. While a person may not answer truthfully in every instance, at least you’re justified when suggestions start flowing.
Let me know what your thoughts are readers. Sympathetic ear vs. problem resolution. Is it helpful just to listen sometimes, or is it a complete waste of time?