Are your conversations going nowhere?

Sometimes it can seem that no matter what you say, you can’t get through. Many times this happens because of a framing problem. No, not carpentry framing, but conversational framing. Have you had a conversation with someone where you’ve had a bad day and you just want to complain about it, but the person you’re talking with keeps giving advice? You just need to get these things off your chest so you can move on, but it’s like the other person keeps putting up these speedbumps in the conversation that slow things down and makes the conversation kind of awkward. You’re having a framing problem. You want to complain and then be done, and your friend thinks you’re having some problems and just need some advice.

These two articles are about this. This one at lifehacker points out how it happens. It references this other blog post at lesswrong. You should really read the lifehacker one, as it is a good introduction. The lesswrong one is more in-depth.

I’ve noticed this happening at home, where my wife wants to unload and complain about something, and I want to be useful and give advice. It turns out that giving advice is something that males really like to do. But it gets in the way when the other person isn’t looking for advice. I’ve found that if I can recognize when I have that urge to give advice and then think “does the other person want the advice, or do they want to unload” helps to keep me from being the speedbump person and inadvertently making the conversation difficult for both of us.

This kind of self-reflection on something I’m about to do (give advice) and then backing off when it isn’t appropriate can really be useful in lowering the friction in a relationship.