The June crisis line

I guess some of you racists are working today, so I thought I’d pen something for you while you fly your Confederate flag or whatever.

Hi! What’s new? I have today off, although I volunteered to help if they need help, as one part of work is screamingly busy at the moment. And I realize it’s not, you know, water torture, but it kind of cockblocks relaxing when you’re nervous about getting a “Come here, Watson, I need you” kind of email or call or I don’t even know how they’re gonna tell me if they need help. If there’s an emergency copy editor situation.

Last week in the break room, where we’ve finally got coffee again (for a few years they just had Keurigs and we all brought our own earth-unfriendly pods), I was talking to a print person about my impossible deadline, and I said, “I think people think I just read.”

“You don’t?” asked the print person, who careful readers will remember as Vilhelm Oyster, one of the very first people I befriended at work.

Every time I call Vilhelm Oyster “the print person” I picture him in a loud Charles Nelson Reilly shirt. So far I’ve called him that twice, so I’m not phoning a crisis line about my repetitive thoughts.

Oooo, but that reminds me. I need your help. Sort of. I need your help only if you’re good at the following.

I recently found this website, and please don’t ask me what it is. Like, I enjoy using it and I kind of want to enjoy using it without being in the middle of it and getting, “JOOON? Is that YOU?” Go find your own fun website.

Anyway, I found a website recently where you get on there completely anonymously, and you can be the venter or the listener. Then you either tell or listen to woes.

I’ve been the listener for several nights now. And sometimes I’ve helped, but one time this person rejected all possible solutions and eventually said, “This isn’t helping.”

One person just had an unusual sex fantasy and eventually left of his own accord.

But anyway, my question to you is, how do you help someone with their problems? Do you just listen or do you offer advice? Because you know how I hate–HATE–unsolicited advice. I think everyone does. But if you’re logging onto a tell-your-troubles website, don’t you expect more than, “Um-hmm.” “Ohhhh.” “Wow, that’s rough.” Don’t you expect more than that?

When I was first getting divorced, the person who helped me most was Emily Freeman, who at the time was a blogger who was just slightly more popular than me, and now she’s like Mrs. Famous Pants. I remember us going shopping one Saturday and proudly saying that I had 400 readers a day.

“That’s great!” she enthused.

….

“…So, are, you, like, using Sitemeter? Do you know how many you have?” I asked.

“Well, yes.” She hesitated.

I think at the time, she had, like 1,200 readers a day or something, and I was all, HOW DOES ONE GET THAT MANY and I think the key may be ambition, which I have never had not even for one second. Mostly, as you know, my goal is to be able to get into my pajamas. It’s not to accomplish great things or go beyond or whatever. It’s not to challenge myself and learn new things. I just want to pay the bills and be able to get into my pajamas. Mostly I want to be able to afford new pajamas.

Is that so bad?

THE POINT IS, Emily P. Freeman, whose podcast I love even though it’s Jesus-y–but GOOD Jesus-y, not “God hates f*gs” Jesus-y–got frozen custard with me soon after I was separated. I wasn’t even dating yet. Which, let’s face it, I didn’t take long to do. Marvin left at the end of March and I got on Match.com over Memorial Day weekend. However, he had a date the night he moved out. So.

THE POINT IS, and now you’re all sick of me, is that what I remember is sitting at that frozen custard table and her just listening. She didn’t ask the kinds of questions that were “I just want the guff” questions. If she asked any, they were to encourage me, somehow. She didn’t offer advice. She was just exactly perfect.

But how do you do that online in a chat room? Is what I wonder. Are any of you good at this sort of thing? Because if I’m going to continue trying to help, I’d like to actually help.

And why do people sign into such a thing if they’re going to reject all your suggestions? I’m asking that legitimately and not complaining-ly.

So that is my quandary for today. Please let me know your pithy thoughts.

Fraser Crane

29 thoughts on “The June crisis line

  1. The thing that’s always helped me the most when I’m talking to a friend about a situation that upsets me is when she sums it up in a way that hasn’t occurred to me before. Maybe it’s just different words or better articulation, but whatever it is, it’s given me new insight.
    For example:
    I’m telling her about something my husband said to me, and she replies “That’s verbal abuse!”
    I’ve never considered it that, I’ve always thought he was just immature and unenlightened. Hee! But anyway, her words make me take a look at his behaviour from a whole different perspective.
    She hasn’t given me advice. But she has helped me a whole lot.
    -Kate

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  2. I know everyone’s already finished talking about this, but here are my thoughts anyway.
    I work with children. I find that at essence, the problems of adults are the same as those of children; adults are just taller. I find the two most effective questions are “What do you want (the other person) to know?” and “What do you want to happen here?” Alternate: “What do you wish the outcome would be?”
    Sometimes by verbalizing the outcome they want, they realize it’s totally unrealistic or they realize what steps need to happen before the outcome can appear.

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  3. At the core of humanity is the desire to be “seen”. Validation is huge in this situation. “”Wow, that sounds hard.” “You’ve been through a lot.” “I can hear your pain/frustration/sadness… another good question is “what does that look/feel like?” That usually prompts the person to think about and talk about change. Lastly, is there anything you could model from your recent therapist?

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  4. I’m with Steve, first I actively listen, letting curiosity guide (not prying curious, but curious to understand that person), and then I ask questions. If you listen really well (online is easy b/c you can go back and read what someone wrote!), you’ll naturally ask relevant questions that are more rhetorical in nature.

    V: I just don’t know what to do!!
    L: If there weren’t any obstacles, what are the top 3 things that you’d love to do?
    V: 1, 2 and 3
    L: So why #1?
    V: b/c it would x,y,z, but I can’t b/c a, b, c
    L: if you could push aside, a, b & c, what’s the best thing that could happen?
    V: the best would be…
    L: what’s the worst?

    so on and so forth

    Once in a while, I might ask someone, “would you mind if I offered a bit of advice?”. If they say yes, rather than saying “you should”, you might say, “I think if I were in your situation, I might want to…”

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  5. I remember complaining about my now ex-husband at work . I must have gone on a bit too long. My co-worker put her hands on her hips and said, “Well, what are you going to do about it ? ” I was taken aback. I was venting and she wanted me to shut up and move on. I’ve never forgotten that. Not everyone wants to be a sounding board. Have no memory of the ex-husband complaint, though.

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  6. June’s advice column….maybe you could start that here once a month or something. If anyone wanted advice
    we could all give it. Saving you of having us advice you to death.

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  7. People rarely want advice. They either want to vent or they want you to agree with what they want to do even if it is a galactically bad idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. In high school on the night my boyfriend broke up with me, I went to my friend’s house and when I got there she said “tell me what happened” and I talked for what seemed like a long time. She listened and when I finally finished talking, she just opened her arms for a hug and I fell into her hug and sobbed. It was exactly what I needed and probably the first time I ever felt like someone really listened. That was 30 years ago and I still appreciate her for that to this day.

    Not sure how that would translate online but sometimes just being there to listen is enough.

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  9. When people tell me their problems I listen without offering solutions unless they ask. At the end of the conversation I always say “hang in there, you will get through this”.

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  10. Sometimes people are really just looking for someone to tell them to do what they already want to do and get upset when you don’t figure it out. I’ve added that to my vent list. “What do you want to do? Do you think that will help?”

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  11. Some people really don’t want help or to resolve problems. They just want to vent. I have a very close friend that I call and say, “I just want to vent.” She does me the same way. She just listens, I just listen. Now if it’s one of my family members, that’s another thing. I will unload on them because I know right up front there is not one dab of common sense involved.
    Tee

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  12. I think in-person listening/advice giving is different than someone logging in to a site where they are allegedly there to get advice.

    In real life, I try to be a good listener, which is generally all I need out of anyone. I think most times we all know the solution to our own problems (as generally we are also the cause of most of our own problems) and just need to hear ourselves talk it out. If someone comes right out and asks “what would you do” I may offer some ideas, but I’d be more likely to rephrase the problem and get them to verbalize the potential solution(s) on their own.

    In the situation you’re describing, I would do exactly as you said – offer up a few ideas and if they keep rejecting them, I would chalk that up to someone who really doesn’t want a solution. To me, the absolute worst situation to get stuck in is with someone who just wants to complain. I lose patience very quickly with someone who enjoys their own misery.

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  13. I try hard and listen, and not but it. I think it depends on the situation. Venting… sometimes you just need to do it. I have a good friend I can call up and just say, “Can I yell at you?” and she will just listen. This is a reciprocal friendship, thankfully. That is the best kind of friend!

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  14. I usually listen without interrupting and then offer my thoughts when it is co-workers, but then I completely do the opposite when it is family. I tend to interject a lot more during those conversations, I am thinking just because of the informalness of the relationships. I don’t feel bad if the first thing I suggest turns out to be something they already tried/thought of/won’t work for the particular situation. Especially at work, I think the people that come to me I know they want to both vent and get advice, so I don’t offend anyone. But I agree with another reader who said these people are on a site, what do they expect? Flouncing doesn’t make sense!

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  15. Sometimes people just need to vent before they can move on. That’s exactly what you needed when you were first divorced and Emily was the perfect friend.

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  16. Honestly the hardest thing for women to do is just let someone vent. Most of us are hardwired to try to fix a problem, especially when the answer seems so obvious. But I really think what people are looking for is a place they can just let it all out, and feel better for having released it. I remember complaining about my day once when my kids were very small and my friend kept offering suggestions to make my day fun and interesting, and instead of being helpful, it just felt like she was dismissing my problems as small. Probably they were to other people, but they felt big to me and I just wanted to vent. It’s not like I couldn’t think of ways to make it better, but sometimes it just feels good to have someone say “that is rough,” or “man, you’re obviously doing the best you can.” I mean, when people suggest things I’ve already tried/won’t work for me because of details the helper doesn’t know, it gets frustrating. Like “do you think I’m slow because I didn’t think to try X Y or Z!?” On the other hand, sometimes you’re so deep in a situation you can’t see a solution and you might be greatful for input. So, I would always start out just listening, and feel your way. They may ask for help. If the conversation stalls you might ask if they want ideas to help or if they’re just venting as someone else suggested. Sounds like a great site. I mean seriously I often feel better just complaining and I have certain friends who I know will just agree that I’m “right” even if I may not be, and just let me get it out of my system so I don’t blow up on the people/situations driving me crazy.

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  17. Personalities are different. Someone may need to talk it out and won’t need or want advice. That doesn’t automatically put them in the complaining department. I say just listen. Since it isn’t in person, have a supply of questions and comments to draw from such as these:
    This must be/must have been frustrating for you.
    Oh, how distressing!
    Then what did you do?
    How did that make you feel?
    What will you do now?
    I’m sorry to hear that. / I’m sorry that happened.
    I think it’s OK to feel that way.

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  18. What everyone said above. Hard to know the nature of the website and what people are wanting. If people don’t ask for advice I don’t give it. Unless it’s my kids and then I am all up in their business. I probably need more hobbies.

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  19. Ask don’t tell. People are looking to come up with their own solutions. Ask them questions that might lead them in new thoughts. “What do you think they were thinking?” “What else could you have done! (?)” “Is there any other way that could have happened?” “I can’t imagine what was going through your mind.”

    I sometimes throw in a curve as well. When the other person is complaining about someone else I may say “Wow, that person must be really hurting. I mean to do what you just said they must be hurting a lot over something” Again to give a different perspective.

    And, with the kids, I always come back to “what would you do differently if you were ever in that situation again?” That is usually the hardest one to get a straight answer.

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    • I’ve also used the “other person must be hurting” in order to draw empathy or attention away from self. Love the last question you suggest. I’ll start using that one.

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  20. I think if you offer a few pieces of advice and get a roadblock back every time, the other person is just a complainer.

    I have a tendency to want to solve people’s problems, and it’s brought me nothing but grief. My mother enlisted me as her therapist when I was around 5 years old, and it took me about 35 years (and scads of therapy) to realize that she had no interest in actually solving her problems. She just wants to complain. Endlessly. For hours and hours. Until I am wrung out like a rag.

    She feels so much better afterwards! Meanwhile, I feel like I’ve had my life force drained out of me. Just make sure you’re taking care of you when you try to help take care of someone else!

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    • I tend to get sucked into relationships where I allow people to unload all their crap on me. Then I end up holding their crap while they skip happily away. They don’t care for my advice or thoughts…. just for me to listen and listen and listen. That gets hard after a while.

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      • Definitely. I used to think I must have a sign over my head that said, “Please use me as your emotional toilet!” I’ve gotten so much better with it since therapy. Now my stock response to someone unloading on me is, “That sounds tough. I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Some weather we’ve been having, huh?”

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  21. If you first listen really well to a friend who is sharing a problem, then I think you can ask if they would like your opinion on what they should do. If they say yes, then give it. Carefully. But if you are on a website that is designed for advice giving, it would seem like that is the point, maybe without needing to ask. Mostly people don’t like hearing advice that suggests they do something they already know they should do, but just don’t want to.

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  22. I usually ask, do you want my advice or do you just want to vent? Then I know if they want suggestions or just want someone to listen to them complain.

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