How to Back Off and Let the People You Love Figure Things Out On Their Own

“Is it your place to fix this?”

That’s the question you have to ask yourself.

Especially when someone you love finds themselves on the precipice of disaster.

Sometimes you have to back off.

Yes, it requires great emotional restraint.
Yes, it requires significant self-control.

But if you don’t let people come to their own conclusions, make their own decisions and make their own mistakes, you fractionize their experiences and rob them of valuable learning opportunities.

Here’s how to back off and let the people you love figure things out on their own:1. Abandon your need to constantly add value. Marshall Goldsmith’s book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, argues that adding too much value is a variation of needing to win.

“The problem is, you may have improved the content of someone’s idea by five percent, but you’ve reduced their commitment to executing it by fifty percent because you’ve taken away their ownership of the idea,” says Goldsmith, “and I walk out of the room less enthused about it than when I walked in.”

Lesson learned: Be responsive instead of reactive. Reacting is a reflex; responding is a choice.

As an approachable leader, if you want to monopolize the listening, don’t bulldoze. Don’t take over. Don’t try to fix or solve. And don’t add too much value to the conversation.

Just dance in the moment and respond to the other person’s immediate experience. Grant people enough space to be and say what is true.

Remember: Their change is not your war. Lay your conversational weapons down and let the people you love fight the good fight. Is your need to add value crushing people’s commitment to finding solutions on their own?

2. Suspend your need to dominate the conversation. Listening is like midwifing. That means facilitating a natural process, guiding the speaker to make the best choices, nurturing the person’s rhythm and steering people where they deem fit.

Not taking over. Not adding more value. Simply inviting others to listen within – then wait for their inner voice to respond. Even if this process takes six painful months, it still shows them that they can trust their own resource and manager their own lives.

The cool part is, when you approach listening as a midwifing process, you leave people feeling heard. And the echoes of their voice reverberate against their own hearts, impelling them to take ownership and take action.

Remember: The goal of listening is to provide assistance, NOT authority. Don’t take over people’s problems for them. Grow bigger ears by helping the other person give birth to understanding. Are respecting people’s speed of self-discovery?

3. Don’t impose your own direction. I guarantee that you currently have a dear friend whose spouse, significant other or life partner is someone you’d like to see walk into a snake pit wearing a rat skin bodysuit.

I know. It’s painful to watch someone you love have no idea that that person they’ve dedicated their life to is completely wrong for them. And not just your opinion – a literal mismatch from hell.

Unfortunately, it’s not your place to say that.

I don’t care how close you are to a person – you can’t try to convince someone to fall out of love. The power of the heart is simply too substantial. And you will lose that battle.

Even if you did sit your best friend down and say, “Look, Marie, I need to tell you, I’m pretty sure your boyfriend is a serial murderer.”

Do you think she would listen?

No way. She’d say you’re crazy. She’d say you don’t really know him. And she’d say his machete collection is “for hunting purposes only.”

Look: Sometimes people aren’t ready to hear things yet. And if you make the mistake of crossing that line before their ears are tuned into the right frequency, you run the risk of shutting them down permanently. And that’s when people really get hurt.

The best thing you do is make observations. That’s it. No opinions. No suggestions. Just things you notice.

Present those things in a respectful, curious and confidential manner – in the hopes that the people you love will eventually realize that dating a convicted killer isn’t the healthiest decision. Are you willing to be an objective observer?

4. Hovering is for helicopters. One thing I admire about my parents is their consistent willingness to let me screw up. Which, from what I hear, is a painful thing for any parent to do.

Because they’re your kids. They’re your babies. And you don’t want them to be in pain.

However, there’s a huge difference between getting hurt and being injured. And I think I’ve (finally) figured out why my parents allow this. It’s because they trust in their own parenting abilities. They believed they raised me right.

And so, when I do screw up, they have faith that I will tap into the foundation of character that they spent the last thirty years of their lives pouring. And wouldn’t you know it? Every time I screw up – which, happens a lot – they back off and let me figure out how to handle it on my own.

Sure, they’re there to help. And guide. And ask questions. And offer suggestions. And, occasionally run over somebody with a tractor.

But they don’t let me get injured. And as a result, my wounds heal under antiseptic of my own actions; the scars of which ultimately help contribute a greater verse to the song of life.

All because they had enough self-control and self-trust to stop hovering and start heeding. Who thinks you’re a helicopter?

5. “I told you so” leads to, “I resent you so.” Okay: You’ve backed off. You’ve listened. And you’ve let the people you love figure out things on their own. Well done.

Now, there’s only one thing left to do: Smother your smugness. Because saying – or implying – any version of “I told you so,” negates all the hard work you’ve put in so far.

Don’t do it. It makes you look arrogant and make them feel small. Instead, trust that she knows you knew – the whole time – that she never should have married that jerk. No need to rub it in her face.

Do what my mentor does. For the past fifteen years, I’ve watched Mr. Jenkins practice this beautifully with each of his students – myself included. Instead of reminding us that he’s always right – which he is – he just waits. Sometimes years.

And when we, his students, eventually figure out how stupid we’ve been the whole time, Mr. Jenkins just smiles and asks us what we’ve learned. And then we reflect together. The learning cycle come to a close, and we move onto the next lesson. How patient are you willing to be with the people you love?

REMEMBER: You can’t convince people to change – you can only give them more information.

Let people learn things on their own.

Otherwise your desire to fix becomes a barrier to being helpful.

Whom are you trying to make just like you?

For the list called, “22 Unexpected Ways to Help People,” send an email to me, and I’ll send you the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor

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