Saturday, June 15, 2019

When is Helping Really Not Helping?

For the past few years, we have had two mourning doves make a nest on top of our outdoor water heater.  Our water heater is just outside the back door, so it's shielded from predators.  Unfortunately for the birds, it also tends to heat up periodically during the day when in use, plus its smooth surface makes nest building difficult.  They have had marginal success in raising their family from egg to launch.  Yet, they return every year.  This year, we decided that they needed help, so we built a little wooden platform with a railing on top of the water heater.  We figured it would insulate the nest from the heat and stop the pieces of nest from sliding to the ground.  We built and we waited.  The doves came back, but they didn't like our platform.  They built a piece of a nest on it, and then abandoned it.  They still like our house; they simply decided to build their nest on top of the trellis which is less than 6 inches away.  As I sit here writing this post, I can see Mama Dove out there sitting on her nest, and I can hear Papa Dove talking to her.  They are content, even though the water heater with the platform is arguably the better nesting site.  We need to learn from them (although we probably helped the odds of the chicks surviving by moving them from the water heater).

If those darn doves don't help us here in the Trenches, I don't know what does.  In law school, or medical school, or any other professional school, we are taught to solve the problem.  We are taught that our training is to help us solve our clients' problems.  We, as professionals, think we are taught the answers to the questions.  It's no surprise that when we are set loose into the world of helping people, we dive almost immediately into problem solving mode.  We listen to our clients in order to solve the problem.  What we discover is that our training makes us lousy listeners, and because we are lousy listeners, we are poor problem solvers.

Let's look at our doves.  We watched them, we identified a problem and we provided a solution.  The doves didn't like the solution because of one or more of a number of things.  Maybe they didn't think they had a problem.   Maybe the urge to nest is greater than the desire to launch live offspring.  Maybe they enjoyed the periodic warmth of the water heater.  Maybe they weighed the options and decided it was more important to have a nest sheltered from the elements and predators, than anything else.  We don't know because doves can't talk.  Our clients, however, can and do talk to us.  When we listen to understand what they're saying, rather than simply to solve the problem, we gather valuable information.  We learn what is important to them.  We hear their concerns.  We ask them questions.  We work with them to solve the problem as they see it, not as we are trained to see it.  They feel heard.  They feel understood.  Most importantly, because of all of that, they take our advice because it makes sense to them and their experience.  Here in the Trenches.

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