Something I learned from peer counseling: When talking with someone facing a problem, many of us start by giving solutions. The problem is that we may give them solutions that they have already tried, and it can be frustrating to them. It is better to first ask “What have you tried?”

I met someone at a group last night. She asked me when I moved here, and I said “Last week, from Berkeley.” She said “Oh, you definitely need to get a parka! Something with lots of down to keep you warm, something that will go to your knees. You’ll freeze otherwise.”

I knew she was trying to be helpful, but I found it annoying. She didn’t ask me how prepared I am for the winter, or what my concerns are, or if I’ve experienced really cold winters before. She immediately launched into a suggestion of what I need to do. Never mind that I’ve already heard this suggestion countless times and have already bought some outerwear. I was tempted to say “Save your breath, I already know all that,” but I simply smiled and said “Thanks.”

She was simply trying to be helpful, but her desire to help wasn’t translating into actual helpfulness.

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