Myth Busting: Problem Talk

Talking about our problems doesn’t help.

That’s a myth.

Talking about our hopes and achievements despite, or in response to, our problems helps.

We’ve all found ourselves sitting in a group of people bonding through a shared moan about politics, societal issues and the state of the world; ‘putting the world to rights’. Think about it; nobody’s feeling better during the moments in the conversation in which we’re just focusing on what upsets us.

It’s the realisation that others appear to value our perspective, that connection, that starts to lift our spirits.

Then it’s the part where we’re talking confidently, with gratitude, defiantly even, about the good things we’re enjoying in spite of it all, and what we’re looking forward to doing next.

Then there’s the moments during the conversation when people recall reassuring and motivating exceptions; “I just despair of youngsters these days… mind you, you know that young girl down the street? She helped me with my bags the other day! Saw I was struggling and came over to offer some help! I was so knackered I decided any help from anyone was welcome! She turned out to be really nice and polite! So considerate! Glad I decided to trust her actually! Perhaps there’s still some hope for us all yet!”; “Makes you feel like just staying in bed doesn’t it! Still, good job we managed not to or we wouldn’t be sat here enjoying this coffee and cake right now eh! And each others charming company of course!”

Problems often naturally come up in conversations, including those about our hopes and shareable resources, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this problem talk in itself makes a positive difference in our lives.

The positive differences in our lives that we notice whilst acknowledging our problems are where the hope, the belief and the talents we can use to build a better future are found.

So with this in mind, if we wish to help someone find hope and believe in their ability to build a better future, then we can do so by gracefully inviting them to notice, from their perspective, the positive differences and exceptions in what they describe.

Not in a “cheer up, it’s not that bad!” way, though. It’s important to make this distinction. More in a “how awful. How are you getting through to the extent that you are?” way.

Inviting them to notice from their perspective, not trying to force another perspective, even if our opinion is that another perspective might be more helpful (it won’t be, guaranteed. Not if it’s imposed, no matter how politely and subtely).

This applies whether they are talking about the past, present or future, because believe it or not, I swear, everything needed for everyone’s hopes to be realised is always there already, just waiting to be noticed.

I’m not the only one with this understanding of what works. There are thousands of professionals thinking the same way to the benefit of their clients.

Next week, Rayya Ghul, a fellow solution focused practitioner and writer, is basing her act at the Edinburgh Fringe on problem talk myth busting in what promises to be a humourous, entertaining and profound show. Details can be found here

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