Motivational, Philosophy

Improving Communication and Problem Solving

Recently we’ve been looking at sayings and ways to look at solving problems.

How many times has someone vented about their problems and a likely response is, “Why don’t you just xxx….[insert their suggested solution]. Notwithstanding there are occasions when someone does directly asks for advice, the act of suggesting solutions to others, rarely succeeds in solving the other’s problems.


male and female statue in Vigeland Sculpture park, Norway holding arms forming an arch

The diplomat, Dag Hammarskjold said:

Not knowing the question,

It was easy for him

To give the answer.

Robert Bolton, People Skills, [1987]

Giving Advice

We seldom understand the full complexity of another person’s situation. In conversations, we only receive basic facts and have no real way of determining the most appropriate course of action for someone else, without knowing the complete picture of what is going on for them and the associated ramifications of suggestions.

Certain ways of responding to friends can even hamper conversations, may trigger feelings of inadequacy, anger or perhaps dependency. The other person might become angry, submissive, argumentative or be very resistant to change.

Ever wondered why this is so?

Responding with solutions, in these situations, often shuts down productive conversation and discourages the person from discovering their own solution. Dispensing solution focused advice may often be seen by the other person as an insult to their intelligence. It’s implying the solution is blatantly obvious and they are incapable of solving their own problems!

Furthermore, we are most likely to bring to the table our own bias, history and prejudices. What works for one person may never work for another.

Logical Advice and Argument

When emotions are heightened, referring to the logical thing to do, or logical solutions, may only serve to infuriate or frustrate the other person. It can alienate a conversation by creating distance between people for they interpret those words as conveying a lack of empathy or a failing to understand.

Logical options rely on facts, and typically disregards discussion of a person’s emotions. When people have problems, their feelings are at the forefront of their minds. Dealing with their emotional response in the first instance, might allow for some brainstorming logical pathways at a later time.

Diverting the Conversation

Some of us are so uncomfortable hearing of another person’s difficulties, we might change the subject or divert the conversation away from the difficult topic and towards one that is more palatable or comfortable.

Enhancing Conversation

So we know what doesn’t work. What can help enhance conversations and others in regard to problem solving?

#1 Listening

Nurturing the person’s ability to determine their own solution by being a sounding board for their thoughts and frustrations.

#2 Ask Open Ended Questions

The old advice of using open ended questions can help.

Start with How, What, Why, Where and Who. Something that allows the person an opportunity to explain a little more, rather than a straight yes or no answer, which might block further dialogue.


Paraphrasing the other person’s thoughts back to them summarizes the problem. In this way, you might rephrase the issue to check you have heard hem and understood their situation correctly. If you haven’t, this gives the other person a chance to clarify things.

What have you tried already?


54 thoughts on “Improving Communication and Problem Solving”

  1. Amanda, very well done. I love Robert Bolton’s quote. This paragraph sums it up nicely:

    “We seldom understand the full complexity of another person’s situation. In conversations, we only receive basic facts and have no real way of determining the most appropriate course of action for someone else, without knowing the complete picture of what is going on for them and the associated ramifications of suggestions.”


    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you Keith. Most of us would be guilty of offering suggestions to others at some point. Well-intentioned suggestions they may be, but ones that only the protagonist can and should choose.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Ang – that is such a lovely thing to say and to offer your friends. I am reminded of a dear friend that had an autistic child who was often distressed and had frequent meltdowns. Most folks would fling suggestions her way with the best of intentions. Is he hungry/tired/thirsty? Does he want to go outside to play? Or you have to be firm with him. She told me the comment she appreciated the most was someone who asked, “How can I help?”
      For some, simply knowing that there is support there to tap into if they should need it, gives them strength. Those friends are lucky to have you!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I will write more on this next time, Janis, but it sounds like you are doing pretty well at managing your own strategies. I guess that might mean that folks come to you for advice if they know you are super good at problem solving?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Empathy is my biggest go to in conversation, never judge & try put yourself in that persons shoes. Sometimes a answer is not needed & not just a listening ear but a hearing ear. If a answer is needed I usually ask them the question in return & more often than not they come up with their own answers. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Encouraging the dialogue and gently supporting the other party so they can work through their feelings and issues, ultimately arriving at a place where they make their own independent decisions is the best outcome of all, Linda. What a great friend you are. You have already worked out empathy is a big contributor to a good outcome.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t give advice. No one really wants it. They know what they need to do but have not yet decided the pain is great enough to do it. Most of us know what needs to be done about a situation but haven’t figured out the how so we just need to hear ourselves verbalize it out loud. When I hear others complain about a situation, I often say, you’ll fix it when you are ready. They then agree. I started journaling so as not to force others to listen to a problem I was trying to work out in my head. I also pay someone to catch what I’m really saying and parrot it back to me. Works every time. 🙂 Good post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “You’ll fix it when you are ready.” I think that is a great response, Marlene, although I can think of some souls who might think I was being dismissive of their problem, if I said that to them. Most would be fine with it.
      The Journalling idea is a fantastic way to deal with one’s own problems too. Keeping a journal seems to be gaining in popularity and can be cathartic. The act of writing down intense emotions seems to be a way of passively releasing tension and allows us to distance ourself a little further back from the issue, which in turn allows time and space for mental processing of the problem.
      As always, your comments are very much appreciated and inspirational. Your children are so lucky to have you!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hello Amanda, great post! Funnily enough, I was just pondering this exact challenge/ topic !I have been noticing how challenging “true listening” can be, and have noticed that in myself and others. Giving another the healing space, holding the healing space for another to come up with the solution that’s right for them, is such a wonderful and needed gift. I really appreciate you sharing some practical tools in order to enhance one’s listening skills, and I loved the quote you share! Everyone, at least in my perception, wants to be truly seen and heard, and not just serve as a projection surface for another’s ideas of them… Fab post! Wishing you a wonderful week. Hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you are right. Everyone does want to be seen and heard. Who would not want to be heard? Not many! I also like how you highlight just how hard true listening is. It is a learned skill and must be, at least for me, practised often lest I fall into bad habits again. This is partly why I post topics like this, because I need reminders. I will be sharing more on this in more of my Sunday reflections posts. You mentioned you were thinking about this topic. Was there a specific trigger that made you ponder it a bit more?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I definitely agree – true listening is an art in itself! I know what you mean re writing something that we want or need to tell ourselves:) Writing and discussing topics are fantastic ways to internalize topics and lessons! Regarding your question, I just had quite a few number of conversations with people where I didn’t feel really heard or seen, and I started wondering whether I truly listen or just wait for my turn to speak! Hugs:)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. A dilemma. I have a friend who is quite a motomouth. She talks quickly and changes topic fast. It is hard to keep up. Somedays I just let her go for it, others I have to find a nice way to interupt her and respond with something!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. That sounds like a compassionate way (to her AND yourself!) to deal with the situation! Its important for us to be kind AND set appropiate boundaries, i find. Not always easy to find that balance in my perception, but definitely worth practising!


  5. I love this, Amanda. I need to forward it to my husband. He’s big on advice-giving and not just to me. Much of the time he has good suggestions once I calm down and quit wanting to kill him on the spot with my glare. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. LOL I’m looking forward to your interview posting. Let me or Sandy know what changes you want made. 🙂 I gave her editor privileges on my blog temporarily. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

          1. You are more than welcome. I get a lot of pleasure from these in depth pieces where I have an opportunity to dig into people’s blogs and really get to know them rather than just scratching the comment box and scanning a post. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

  6. So true! A couple of days ago, I was guilty of giving unasked for advice when I suggested that a friend get a second opinion about what seems to be a serious health problem. While the advice was sound, I have been wondering if it was the right thing to do. It was love and concern that made me give it, but still…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Most of us are offering suggestions out of love and concern, particularly where it pertains to health. A second opinion is always useful if there is some doubt. Doctors are only human and fallible like any of us. Some folks need to hear a suggestion if they doubt themselves and I guess we could dance around the topic letting them make that decision, if we have the time and a good relationship with them.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Questions, the asking of said, are tricky. I don’t mind listening to someone’s difficulties as long as that person realizes I’m not going to fix them. If asked I will help them fix themself, but I don’t give out advice willy nilly. And even when I do advise, it’s nuanced as to be more of a tiny nudge, not a hammer over the head.


  8. You have covered the topic so well.
    Your practical tips are of great help.
    Giving advice whether asked or unasked is always a puzzle with me.
    Are we guilty or not in giving advices…a million dollar question.
    Sometime back I did a guest post in Renards world
    On similar topic slightly in a different way.
    If you find time you can go through the link.
    Thank you


  9. Beautifully you have covered the topic Amanda.

    To give or not to give advice is a puzzle to me.

    To ask for advice is a million dollar question.

    Your tips are of great help.

    Sometime back I did a guest post in Renards World, topic of similar nature in a slightly different way.

    If you find time, I request you to go through the link.

    Thank you


  10. Probably used most. As a market researcher I used to send my interviewers out in the field with finetuned questionnaires to understand consumers’ attitudes and behaviours. Whenever I attended an interviewers’ briefing I would ask them what their most important task was. One always raised her or his hand to say: “ask questions?”. And I would say: “No. Your most important task is to listen very carefully to the answers. Only then will you make sure the interviewee has understood the question”.
    So listening is the key.


    1. An excellent example to highlight the importance of listening, Brian. I am thinking that some questions may not need to be asked if the interviewer has listened closely. Or they can ask follow up questions that allow for deeper understanding?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. They do have to ask all questions. As a rule. Even if the respondent got ahead, they need to confirm. Now on open-ended questions they have to make sure the answers are clear and deeply answered. Of course there are brilliant interviewers and average… 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I usually tell people, whenever you say, “Why don’t you just _____,” it’s the wrong solution. Because it’s never just _____. If it were just _____, it would be over and done with already. I had to have 10 brain surgeries because of one of my seven rare diseases, and a friend’s mom asked why don’t I just drink this juice she was selling? It cured diabetes and eczema and GI issues and, and, and…well, you get the idea. First of all, what a bunch of lies. Second of all, if juice was going to save me from 10 brain surgeries, wouldn’t I have gone that route already?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is quite laughable the suggestions that some folks think will be news to us. But most are well meaning, including your juice lady. Of course, the juice can’t help and if I was in your situation I might just mumble a reply and say thank you, I will think about it or I might even say, It might work for you but it isn’t right for me. If they press me further, I might get irritated. You are quite right, you would have taken a simple juice if it obviated the need for surgery! Goodness. The Doctors would dispense it in pill form too, if it worked!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I try to stay away from saying “Thanks” and letting someone think they’ve offered a solution. If I don’t at least make them give pause, then I need to work a little harder. I’m coming from the perspective of a patient advocate where we have to fight all the time, including against doctors. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

          1. I do want to be clear that it’s not a manipulation. I want effort from the doctors. I actually figured out the mechanism behind the issue with my brain before my doctors did, and it took me 7 years. But I have other conditions that have taken 17, up to 42 years to diagnose after symptoms appeared. What I don’t want is for the doctors to tell me to go away and get counseling, which is what women are told all the time, all over the world (I work with women all over).

            Liked by 1 person

      1. Okay, mam, let’s take an example,
        Our friend is having financial problems within his career and issues with family, and he shares it with us, so our subconscious siren has been raised, we are troubled equally from his distress as a friend and we think we have to hurry to give him solutions as well to imbibe positive psychology and hope. So we come up with all those ways of earning money without even bothering if he has skills and the willingness to do what we advised, without even thinking whether his/her insecurities and complexes about life would allow him to do that. And also whether he has the courage to disagree with what we say. With the family issues, we’ll just say everything will be okay, try to spend time explaining each other and all those relationship help, again without bothering what kind of attitude people around him possess or whether it is the problem of misunderstanding or over expectation, or can it be solely his fault also?
        So our intention is always nicer but our approach is “I give you the solutions, just for the sake of motivating you, because that’s all I can.”
        So my analogy was that empathy is said to be stepping into someone’s shoes. But we need to make sure when we give advices, we have to be specific and avoid generalisation like what you said Mam. Otherwise we’ll over do and the shoes that we stepped into itself becomes wider according to our own size and no use for the one for whom it was.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. How wisely you explained that, Tanish! Thank you for taking the time for a lengthy and interesting answer.
          This especially struck me as salient information in your response:
          “{giving suggestions} without even thinking whether his/her insecurities and complexes about life would allow him to do that. And also whether he has the courage to disagree with what we say. ”
          I will ponder your wise words today. This is a facet of the other person’s reaction that we don’t always think about.
          Thank you again.

          Liked by 1 person

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