This is an excerpt from my upcoming program, The Change-Seeker’s Guide To Advanced Living.
“That the birds of worry and care fly above your head,
This you cannot change;
But that they build nests in your hair,
This you can prevent.”
Once you have handled your personal dramas, you will find that there are more than enough people out there just waiting to drag you into their dramas too. I have instituted a fifteen-minute rule in my life to handle just such occurrences. The rule goes something like this: If someone comes to me with a problem, I give them roughly fifteen minutes to whine, complain, and moan about the problem. I say roughly because some issues need more time for the reality of the problem to set in. Basically, I give the person enough time to start repeating themselves. Then, at that point, I give them a choice. They can:
- Shut up.
- Stop whining and change the subject.
- Go away and whine at someone else.
- Begin to solve the problem.
I know that these choices sound harsh, and perhaps they are, but they are effective. And they form the basis for creating a balance between being caring and getting drawn into other people’s dramas. You may be able to find a softer way of presenting these options to your friends and family, but I left them as they are so that you could be clear on what the choices are. My friends have learned that I care about them and I am willing to invest in their growth exactly as much as they are. So when they decide to start working on the issue, I am there for them. This tends to more than offset my unwillingness to listen to whining and drama. After all, it is much easier to find someone willing to listen to you complain, than it is to find someone willing to help you fix it.
Anyway, going back to our rule, if they choose any option other than #4, I am no longer involved in their drama. If they choose option #4, then I will help them for as long as it takes to either solve the problem or until they end up back in the whining stage at which point they are presented with their options again. Note that this rule is in effect for the life of the issue, not each time I see or talk to the person. So if someone is having problems at their job, they get fifteen minutes – period, until they either change jobs or make some other adjustment in an effort to ameliorate the situation. And, once a solution is reached, there is nothing more to talk about until the person takes the action agreed upon.
Sadly, I had a friendship that did not survive this rule. My friend called to talk about the job he hated and the girlfriend who was not working out and his living situation that was less than optimal. My response was always “Same job? Same girlfriend? Same house?” His answer to each question was “yes”, it was the same things we had talked about before. I would tell him that his 15 minutes were up and it was on to the next topic. Sadly, he had nothing else to talk about and therefore, the friendship foundered. I found it sad that we could find no other conversational meeting point, but I couldn’t be part of his stagnation.
This rule has been very effective in my life in reducing the number of dramas dropped on my doorstep. I am now known in my circles as being someone you go to when you are ready to solve the problem, but not someone that you go to whine to. I rarely have to enforce the rule anymore, all of my friends know it and they police themselves for me. They are also quite happy to point out to me when my 15 minutes are drawing to a close on an issue as well. It has to work both ways to be an effective tool.
Be aware that there are some people who will come to you in the guise of solving a problem, but will veto every option you give them and will provide none of their own. This person is not committed to solving their problem. They are just paying it lip service to get you to invest in their drama a little while longer while they whine about what won’t work rather than focusing on what will. Don’t buy into it. If you can tell that they are not focused on the solution, then walk away. You can’t help them until they are ready to accept your help, so don’t waste your time and energy.
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