I think the advice in this post is true and valuable with regards to the importance of developing a deep understanding of the complainer. I do also think (based on my own experience as both complainer and listener) that sometimes people want empathy or a sounding board rather than advice. That doesn’t mean they literally don’t care about ever solving their problem, but rather that first they need emotional support (in cases where they’re wanting empathy) or space to think out loud rather than prescriptive advice.
Yup, I came here to say this.
These days I’m often talking with Duncan Sabien, and sometimes I complain about my problems.
When I do, I almost never expect Duncan to give me solutions (though he sometimes does, because he’s a smart person and a good listener). I mostly do it to vent, and to put some words on ideas and grievances I’ve been stewing on for a while.
I’m going to be a little elitist and say this: the smarter people are, the less you can help them by giving them advice. If people aren’t self-actualized, and don’t have the skill to think through their problems, then, sure, you can listen to them for a while and give them a totally different approach or a new trick that they didn’t think of. But there’s also a category of people who, by the time they come to you to vent about their problems, have already put enough thought into them that they’ll have considered anything you can think of after a 5-minutes conversation.
(though of course you might have domain-specific knowledge or they might have overlooked something obvious or they might need support to not pick the easy-but-wrong choice, etc)
To paraphrase Scott Alexander, we should cultivate the skill of appreciating the phatic. Obviously everything in the article is valid and insightful and being curious is absolutely a skill to cultivate, especially in rational communities. But being phatic is a good default.