Erika Ettin column: Ask this question next time someone comes to you with a problem

Erika Ettin helps people navigate the world of online dating.

Erika Ettin is the founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps others navigate the often intimidating world of online dating.

“Are you looking for me to listen or offer advice?”

I find myself asking some form of this question all the time — to clients, friends and romantic partners.

Sometimes, someone calls you and starts to vent about something. Human nature — at least mine, and most people I know — is to jump to finding answers or solutions when, in fact, the person on the other end of the phone simply needs someone to just listen, sympathize and commiserate.

This is often especially difficult for me, as a dating coach, when I have friends who complain to me about — you guessed it — dating.


My nature, because of my job (and what clients pay me to do) is to jump into problem-solving mode. “Why isn’t Bumble working for you? Let me see which photos you’re using. Are your conversations one-sided? Are you taking too long to get back to someone? Let’s assess and fix it.” This trait works great for me in business — clients get immediate guidance to resolve the problem at hand. Where it often doesn’t work is in relationships or friendships. In fact, a good friend of mine will say to me sometimes, when she just wants to share something, “Don’t client me.”

How is this relevant to dating?

When you are starting a new relationship, and when you’re in an established one for that matter, communication is one of the most important factors in making a relationship work. But we have to remember that no one is a mind reader. So, if you want someone to listen, you can tell them just that: “I know there are probably a million solutions, but right now, I just want to vent to you.” On the other hand, if you want someone to brainstorm with you, you can say, “I could really use some advice.”

Now, if you’re on the other side, someone comes to you with an issue or a problem, and you’re not sure what they are looking for, then ask. It’s that simple. “Are you looking for a listening ear or advice?”

The shortest way I thought to say this would be “Sympathy or solutions?” Not only will you be able to provide your partner (in any context) exactly what they need, but you will also be seen as someone who doesn’t just put forth your own agenda. Rather, you can adapt your communication to what that person needs at that time. In fact, someone may need a shoulder to cry on right now, but in a day or two they might be ready to hear your thoughts on how to resolve the matter.

I get many complaints from clients that their date isn’t truly listening to what they are saying. Listening is a skill that needs to be honed and practiced. So rather than automatically thinking of everything you want to try to resolve in your head (I think we’re all culprits of “half listening,” where we’re already thinking about the next thing we want to say while the other person is talking), instead, take a beat and figure out what your role is. This will bode well in any type of relationship — romantic, parental, you name it.

So give it a spin. The next time someone comes to you with a problem, ask what they would like from you in that situation. It will make you a better friend and partner to not just assume but to actually ask… and thereby put the other person first.

Erika Ettin is the founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps others navigate the often intimidating world of online dating. ©2020 Erika Ettin Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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