It is not easy to just shut up and listen

I am just like the guy in the video. When people tell me about a problem they are facing, I immediately go into my analytic mode, clinically examining the problem and dissecting it in order to try and find solutions, and then presenting them as possible courses of action, with their pluses and minuses.

This of course infuriates people who don’t want to hear about my ideas for solutions, which they have already likely considered and rejected. Instead, all they want is for someone to listen to them and sympathize.

Over time I have got a little better at identifying what response is being looked for and responding appropriately, but not by much. I still miss more often than hit. Even though I am aware of my failing, I just don’t seem to be able to easily shut down the analytic part of my mind which is the one that first springs into action.

It is somewhat surprising that some my friends still talk to me and haven’t thrown things at me yet.


  1. Corvus illustris says

    You realize that this is a riff on a piece of pop psychology--men are from mars, women from venus or whatever--according to which: women will listen with sympathy to a person who suffers from nail-in-the-head pain, while men will suggest the use of a nail-extracting device? It’s not about you or me as humans--it’s about the infernal Y chromosome. Oh, and culture.

  2. Mano Singham says

    Although pop psychology portrays it as gender-based, as I am not sure that it is entirely so. Some of my experiences have been with men who did not appreciate my efforts at problem-solving. One almost stopped talking to me. I think it is based more on personality types.

    I just thought the clip was funny.

  3. wtfwhatever says

    “This of course infuriates people who don’t want to hear about my ideas for solutions, which they have already likely considered and rejected. Instead, all they want is for someone to listen to them and sympathize.”

    This is actually a very privileged, arrogant, and abiological position for women/feminists to take and they often take it.

    Consider it in terms of the Frog and the Scorpion:

    So women go up to men and demand they do something that is claimed to not be in their nature. And then they get upset when they act like men. And presumably the women are correct to do so, it’s the man at fault for trying to fix a problem that seems to be a significant issue in his partner’s life.

    This is femsplaining at its finest, the rationalization of the criminalization of male biology and psychology and the rationalization of arrogant, idiotic, counterproductive, blaming behavior by women.

    In a world where the two sexes are treated equally, no one would put up with that bullshit.

    Apologies for the rant.

  4. Loqi says

    “Criminalizing male biology?” What does that even mean? I really don’t think you know the first thing about the sexes being treated equally.

  5. kraut says

    “I really don’t think you know the first thing about the sexes being treated equally.”

    We all know that all men are inconsiderate rapist misogynistic bastards all the time, their whole purpose in life to always trample on the rights of women, even be so arrogant as to suggest solutions to problems that women
    like to be defined in their terms only, that all men are always patriarchally powertripping and in full control of their own economic destiny and circumstances while all women are always not in control of their economic circumstances, and all men are privileged to always do what they decide they want to do with absolutely no constraints whatsoever.
    The privilege extends even so far that if i can chose between a CEO position and that of a sewer repair man I am always free because of my privileged manhood to shun the second option, because of my privileged status the position to upper echelons of the economic enterprise is always open to me.
    We also know that men among themselves in any circumstance further the well being of their gender brethren and always look out for them with no hint of competition, this way ensuring that the patriarchal society without any class, income or differences in level of intelligence can be perpetuated to the detriment of all women forever.

  6. Mano Singham says

    I am a little surprised at the intensity of this discussion. I posted the clip because I thought it was a funny one about differences in attitudes and did not see any deep gender messages in it. It could have been two men or two women and still been as funny. Did the creators want to perpetuate gender stereotypes? I don’t know. But I didn’t read that into it myself.

    I tend not to look for meanings that are too deeply buried. As Freud is supposed to have said (but didn’t) “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”.

  7. says

    I’m guessing it’s the use of the phrase “shut up and listen” in your title. Recently it’s become somewhat of a charged phrase after Ron Lindsay’s talk at WIS. Don’t be surprised if the MRAs and Slymepit crowd start crawling out of the woodwork.

  8. kraut says

    “Don’t be surprised if the MRAs and Slymepit crowd start crawling out of the woodwork.”

    It must be nice to be able to think in such limited terms about those disagreeing with you.
    Stick a label on and done with it.

  9. says

    Thanks for this amusing post, Mano! I am also inclined to leap into “problem-solving mode” with people when they simply want to talk about something that is upsetting/bothering/worrying them. Thsi has been especially true with my children, but I also launch into “helpful advice” with friends and even strangers on the internet with whom I have become acquainted. IT’s an ingrained reaction. I must have born this way and it is really difficult to overcome the instant reaction, even though I am now aware of it.
    I’ve made it a point to follow my sister’s example (she has her PhD in psychology) and now force myself to always start every response with “Would you like advice or would you like a sympathetic ear?” -- with my children, it’s been interesting. Having confessed to them that I am aware of my tendency to offer all sorts of unsolicited advice, and this is going to be my approach from now on, I find that they often laugh and say “Just the ear, thanks” and occasionally will actually ask for the advice. I feel better that I can have their help in finding what is really needed by people I care about and they are respected, too.

  10. left0ver1under says

    The desire for us to be helpful makes people start with,

    “Have you tried _______?”

    when we should start with,

    “__What__ have you tried?” or “How can I help?”

    Nobody likes being told what to do, especially when they already tried the obvious and not so obvious. This may be a new problem to the listener, but it’s not new to someone who is enduring it.

    I’ve never had any major problems in my life, and I don’t like when people do that. I can only imagine what it’s like for someone going through long-term major frustrations, through legal or medical problems.

  11. kraut says

    I am/was a service tech for hydronik systems, pressure systems etc., I also was a lab tech, agrologist, surveyor, child care worker etc., spending the majority of my life troubleshooting and problem solving. I now sell, design and advice customers. When someone comes to me and asks for help with troubleshooting, i will listen to him, and point out what is likely wrong and how to solve the problem; if he responds that a friend of his has a different theory or my advice does not jive withe his, I politely tell to him to please listen to his friend or himself and to stop wasting my time.
    I try and succeed in not offering advice unasked.However if someone asks me for advice, and refuses to deal with the obvious problem first, I politely tell him/her to please fuck off and stop wasting my time. Works privately and in business.

  12. kraut says

    sorry -- i am not selling or designing customers…also I would like that possibility to get rid of some obnoxious ones.
    Should read: I now sell to customers and design and advice.

  13. Loqi says

    I didn’t see anything gender related, which is why I was completely confused by wtfwhatever’s comment. The only thing I can think of is that he/she interpreted the video as “men are biologically programmed to fix things and women to bitch about them,” which is so mind-bogglingly absurd and sexist that I can’t even begin to address it.

    My first thought was how much I hate it when people try to give me advice about my back (I have permanent spinal damage). It’s not quite analogous to what’s happening in the video, but I get really annoyed when people see me in a lot of pain and offer up something like, “Maybe you should just lie down. That helps me when my back hurts.” I know they mean well and are honestly trying to help, but I’ve been dealing with this since I was 14. I’ve seen innumerable specialists, done years of physical therapy, and been to several pain management clinics. It’s safe to assume that at some point, I’ve tried lying down. I know it is hard to see someone they care about in pain and want to help, but there’s really nothing they can do to make the pain go away. The worst they can do is try to fix it, because then I’m in pain *and* want to get away from them.

  14. Loqi says

    Man, if anyone held the positions you’re describing, you’d have totally burned them.

  15. says

    kraut, are you sure they came to you asking for help with troubleshooting or just came to you to vent about a frustrating situation or problem?
    You see my mistake has always been assuming that if someone comes to me to talk about a frustrating situation, that they actually want me to advise them on how to solve the problem. IN fact, people usually already have ideas about how they feel most comfortable dealing with the problem and what they are looking for from a friend or colleague is often just a friendly ear.
    My husband makes the same mistake.
    We have both come to the conclusion that our irritation with other people not taking our advice may be caused by our own stupidity in not realizing that we misread the situation and did not react appropriately to it. Just because we react by wanting to offer “solutions” does not mean that was what the situation called for -- so our irritation when the other person responds with surprise and rejects our excellent advice may be misplaced.

  16. kraut says

    “kraut, are you sure they came to you asking for help with troubleshooting or just came to you to vent about a frustrating situation or problem?”

    When a customer comes to me with “I have a problem, can you please help me” I listen patiently, ask the pertinent questions regarding the specifics, and then explain to him what the problem is, why it occurs, and the solution -- I have after all 30 years experience in the field.
    The irritating part then: “but I have read on the internet….a friend told me… my theory is…”…I am sorry, then keep consulting the internet or listen to your friend..
    If he asks clarifying questions -- that is one thing, but if you as my customer think his friends know better than he is wasting my time and the money of the company I work for. I give my advice at the companies cost solely for the customers benefit (maybe there is a part that I can sell him) and i expect the customer to respect my expertise.

    The same applies in social discussions, private consultations. One should possess enough experience after a certain time of living to discern between a friend venting -- which is fine by me -- or somebody asking me to help fix a problem.
    Among my friends we clearly state beforehand if one asks for help or just wants to blow off steam. During the venting one eventually might come to the conclusion that help is ask for or needed, but that develops usually quite organically after a lot of listening.
    If someone as in the video however states feeling uncomfortable, does however not admit to the fact that there is an obvious problem that might strongly contribute to the situation than I would call that denial, similar to the response by a lot of conservatives that there is a climate problem but please: it has nothing to do with human action. The stupidity of denial in both situations is the same.

  17. Daniel Schealler says

    This of course infuriates people who don’t want to hear about my ideas for solutions, which they have already likely considered and rejected. Instead, all they want is for someone to listen to them and sympathize.

    A better way to phrase it would be something like: If you are talking over the person you’re trying to help, you’re doing it wrong. Listen first, think second, talk last.

    Something about the use of the word ‘sympathy’ in this context feels iffy. It’s just that when I imagine myself as the person on the other side, something about your summation really bugs me. Can’t put my finger on what it is exactly… It just feels like a bit of a pat on the head rather than genuine engagement.

    I am certain this isn’t what you intended.

    Just reporting on how the phrasing played out in my head is all. Choice of phrasing matters -- how we frame the issue shapes the unstated premises that inform interpretation. Because that’s where most of the action is, in the stuff we take for granted without realizing it.

  18. invivoMark says

    It’s a good thing you’re here as a demonstration of someone for whom the label, along with all its accompanying criticisms, doesn’t fit!

    Oh, wait.

  19. wtfwhatever says

    Thank you for the personal testimony, I’ve long suspected most FTB commenters lack imagination (and cognition and intelligence). As you may not realize though, one anecdote is not real evidence, so we will have to keep on looking.

  20. Eristae says

    So women go up to men and demand they do something that is claimed to not be in their nature. And then they get upset when they act like men.

    Are you trying to claim that men aren’t capable of listening and sympathizing? That it’s somehow contrary to their nature? Because that would be both weird and scary, and I really think that it isn’t the case. I think men are perfectly capable of listening and sympathizing. I think they do it all the time.

    And this next part isn’t necessarily directed at you (I’m not sure where you stand), but it absolutely appalls me how willing anti-feminists are to denigrate men. According to them, men only think with their penises, men can’t control their more violent emotions, men don’t have less violent emotions, men want to have many children with many women and NOT take care of any of those children, everything men do is based around fooling women so that said women will not realize the aforementioned and will have sex with the man and make a baby, men lack the ability to engage in even basic social communication (like sympathizing), men lose the ability to use logic when they become either angry or lustful, men will always leave their partners after their partners get old and can’t have children, it goes on and on and on. If this shit was true, I don’t know why anyone would want to be around men, and I’m including men in that “anyone.” It’s also clearly false. Despite this, there seem to be a lot of people who are really invested in it, and I don’t understand that at all.

  21. lochaber says

    heh, I’ve gotten this before… I could certainly see it as a product of cultural views on gender-roles and such. I’m not sure if my case is due to gender roles, or because I’m not a very social person, and a large majority of the time people approach me with problems I’m expected to fix them.

  22. Ysanne says

    The claim that the interaction in the clip follows from the gender of the people involved is the basic claim of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus”.
    Basically, men are supposed to talk “for function”, i.e. content-focussed in order to solve problems or share/generate knowledge, whereas women are supposed to talk “for bonding”, i.e. content isn’t relevant and the whole point is to share emotions and sympathy. The conclusion is that men and women inherently misunderstand each other.
    And while both genders look a bit lopsided in this characterisation, it’s somewhat telling that it’s women who supposedly lack the basic skills necessary to tackle the practical challenges of living an independent life.

  23. Eristae says

    i expect the customer to respect my expertise.

    I never like this kind of statement because a lot of people with ill intentions will use it as a way to intimidate the customer into doing something that is not in the customer’s best interest.

    When my mother was getting the house remodeled, the workers drilled holes in the wrong side of cupboard doors that they were to install. They then drilled holes in the correct side of the same doors and installed the doors. They said nothing about the problem until my mother noticed it and brought it up, and which point they got to deal with the fact that the workers had damaged something they were supposed to install (I don’t remember what the outcome was). If my mother said nothing and had merely accepted their expertise, we’d simply have gotten cupboards doors with holes in them.

    And that’s just dealing with malicious individuals and not instances where the person is mistaken, and no amount of experience will make a person infallible.

    Furthermore, it’s not like the advice they’re receiving necessarily comes from uninformed sources; to use another example, my mother often consults with a friend over issues with her car. The friend is a former mechanic. Both know and acknowledge that being a former mechanic means that he is somewhat out of the loop in regards to some of the newer changes in cars, but that doesn’t mean that his advice is useless. If she (or I) put forth a suggestion about the car based on his knowledge to a mechanic and the mechanic said, “I am sorry, then keep consulting the internet or listen to your friend,” rather than something like, “No, that wouldn’t be the case because of blah blah blah,” I would be extraordinary nervous about the mechanic’s intentions, nervous enough that I’d be looking for another mechanic.

    To quote a section of an article,

    …one of the best sources of education actually comes with the car: the owner’s manual. Gilbank says it is important to take the time and look through it. Often, it includes the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations. This can be particularly helpful when a mechanic is pushing you to replace a part or have a service done. For instance, Gilbank warns that fluid flushes are quick and easy money for mechanics and do not necessarily need to be done as frequently as a technician suggests.

  24. invivoMark says

    No, I’m serious. I’m not being snarky at all. I really can’t imagine why anyone would ever ask you to shut up. I mean, you don’t seem like the kind of guy who stereotypes and generalizes, slings uncreative insults without provocation, or goes on a tangential rant with the singular purpose of inciting a flame war because you know your opinion is in the minority among regular readers.

    And I don’t for a second believe that you troll FTB just looking for posts with the phrase “shut up and listen”. That would just be pathetic, and you’re clearly above that.

  25. Tyrant says

    That phrase has become slyme bait ever since the days of the great harrassment policy discussion.

  26. Corvus illustris says

    I just thought the clip was funny.

    I thought it was hilarious; the style is Nichols-and-May brought up to date and it worked really well. But reading down the comments, I feel guilty for mentioning its pop-psych antecedents. Disclaimer: my skepticism about that pop-psych is profound.

    Maybe you’re too self-critical? Nobody who takes science education seriously and has done 1-to-1 office work with students can have failed to learn how to operate in both sympathy and problem-solving modes, as required.

  27. B-Lar says

    I saw this and shared it on face book already as I found it tickled me with its subtlety. I feel like the joke is at the expense of the female gender which made me a tiny bit uncomfortable, but the video is surreal enough to overcome that for me.

    Why would you care more about talking about the pain than removing the (obvious) source of the pain? Normally of course, the source of the pain is not obvious, and there might be a very good reason why you cant just pull the nail. Maybe your brains would leak out? She doesn’t go down this route though… Its almost like she doesn’t want to know that the nail is even there. I guess if they went into more depth then the clip would lose its humour appeal…

  28. Mano Singham says

    Thanks for the heads up. I had not realized that this common phrase had become a trip wire.

  29. Mano Singham says

    That’s a good suggestion. I am going to try it. I am sure that I will feel a little self-conscious at first asking such a question. Did you feel it?

  30. Mano Singham says

    Yes, the surreal aspect is what got me. I have always had a weakness for absurdist humor.

  31. steve oberski says

    No one criminalizes male biology.

    What is criminalized are male actions performed using male biology as a lame ass excuse.

  32. steve oberski says

    The few times I have engaged in this form of conversation I quickly came to the realization that my role was to act as a enabler for existing behaviour that the other person had no intention of ever changing.

  33. Corvus illustris says

    What the clip did really well was to take that facile claim and run with it to a logical, absurd, and amusing conclusion: the most pungent criticism anyone could offer.

    … it’s somewhat telling that it’s women who supposedly lack the basic skills necessary to tackle the practical challenges of living an independent life.

    Frontier farm women may not have seemed to be living independently, but if they had been incapable of initiative and problem-solving my maternal mitochondria (and a lot of other people’s) would be extinct.

  34. Timothy says

    Thank you, Eristae. Well said.

    A a psychotherapist (and a male), I find that problem-solving (as a conversational response) is deeply embedded in our Western culture. When I train new therapists — both men and women alike — one of the first skills I find that I have to teach is how NOT to step into problem solving.

  35. kraut says

    Funny, this is just the condensed version of shit i read on this FTB blog site over the last two years.
    I stopped reading most of the female bloggers and the comments there.

  36. kraut says

    I talk about actual expertise attained through multiple installations that work flawlessly and satisfy the customers need.
    Again -- if you prefer your friends advice over mine, you are welcome to it. just do not waste my time and my companies money. I have had to listen to too much uninformed bullshit about technical problems.
    As I said, i am willing to discuss some idea as to its merits, but when that idea actually from my experience is wrongheaded and the customer still insists after thorough explanation -- than it is unproductive conversation.

    As to your “tradesmen” -- yes, one can make mistakes, that can happen to anybody. The expertise shows in how to remedy that mistake. What they did has nothing to do with expertise, how they handled -- or not handled the problem -- has something to do with honesty and craftsmanship.

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