Have you ever had this experience?… There’s something on your mind, you turn to a friend, family member or colleague to talk about it, they immediately provide a solution and then seem a bit frustrated when you want to continue discussing the topic.
Or… have you been on the other side of this exchange? You provide what seems like a sensible solution… but the other party wants to keep talking about the same topic.
I’ve been on both sides of this type of conversation many, many times, both personally and professionally… have you too?
The thing is… often the act of talking about something, is a key step in your thinking process. It helps you to both form and process thoughts.
And, as the “other party” in this dialogue, sometimes the best solution you can give… is no solution at all.
Giving someone the opportunity to “hear themselves think”
Sometimes when you’re trying to find a solution or make a big decision, you can get stuck in a pattern of circular thinking. Psychologists refer to this as rumination.
Once you’re stuck in a ruminating thought cycle, it can be hard to break out of. And, understandably, one of the worst things you can do is let yourself remain stuck… so, ideally, you want to identify and break this cycle as quickly as possible.
The problem for smart, experienced professionals is you’re more likely to keep trying to figure things out than admit you might need help to get “unstuck”.
I fell into this trap when I wanted something different for my career. And, “circling” or “pin-balling” between ideas and options is a common theme that crops up time and again with my clients.
You might be surprised to learn there’s a simple and effective solution available that slows or stops the merry-go-round and allows you to make progress. Just… “talk it out”.
Talking things through provides the perspective you need to break the cycle. And, in hearing what’s been going on inside your head, you’re likely to find you already know the best solution.
How to “talk it out” so you get the right answers
1. FIND THE “RIGHT” PEOPLE TO TALK TO
If discussing your issue leads to feeling like you’re going nowhere… you’ve probably chosen the wrong person. Steer yourself away from those who, however well intended, always jump straight to solution mode based on what works for them. Also avoid those who’ll indulge in co-rumination with you. Choose someone you know will listen and ask good questions. And, consider finding a coach or counsellor to assist with complex personal or professional problems (see point 3).
2. READ THE ROOM
When you’ve been stuck in your head for a while, the opportunity to talk might open the floodgates. If someone does offer “to have a chat” or “talk things through” with you… provide a short, contextual overview and check they have the time and energy available before you launch. Friends, colleagues, and mentors will often willingly support you to find a solution, but it’s important to understand they have their own stuff going on. Be courteous and request a time that sets you both up for a valuable conversation.
3. SEEK OUT THOSE WHO CAN BE OBJECTIVE
If the nature of your issue is sensitive, personal, or likely to significantly impact others, consider accessing professional help. Circular thinking is often the result of not challenging yourself to ask those hard questions that require courage to answer; being more concerned about how everyone else will be affected; or, because you constantly receive validation of your “excuses” from those close to you. A coach or counsellor will use objectivity to encourage and support you.
4. THERE’S A TIME FOR TALKING, THEN THERE’S TIME FOR ACTION
An executive I once worked for used to say, “there’s a time for discussion and debate, but eventually the conversation has to stop, and you need to do something.” Beware the need to keep discussing the same thing repeatedly. You’ve likely replaced the rumination cycle with a discussion cycle. And this is a sneaky form of procrastination. So sometimes just doing something, anything, will be all you need to stop thinking (and talking) and get started.
5. BE YOUR OWN BEST AUDIENCE
Let’s face it, occasionally there’s no-one else around and you might need to DIY. Research has shown talking out loud to yourself can help you resolve whatever you’re working on and move forward. Speaking what’s on your mind helps you focus on one idea at a time, better retain information, and gain a similar level of perspective as you get from a dialogue with someone else. Athletes use this strategy to improve their performance, and it can work for you too.
And, if you’re on the other side of this exchange, consider how you can better support your friend or colleague. If you sense the excellent solution you’ve given hasn’t landed, it might be the perfect opportunity to simply provide the time, space and a few gentle prompts to let the other person talk out their thoughts.
If you’re cycling around a number of different ideas trying to figure out what’s next for you and you’re not making progress on your own, let’s discuss how I can help you put some helpful habits in place to kick start your progress.