When Addressing a Problem — Start by Doing Nothing

Photo by Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash

“Don’t just do something, sit there.”

The above quote was uttered by Judson Brewer, who I had the opportunity to listen to (virtually, of course). Brewer is a psychiatrist, author, and professor who’s spent ample time hearing other people discuss their problems.

It came as a surprise then that someone who’s a trained psychiatrist telling his audience to “sit there” instead of doing something.

How does that make any sense?

Our friends and family confide in us their toxic relationships, frustrating work pursuits, and embarrassing personal matters. There’s a reason they’re coming to us. Obviously, they want our help.

Or is that really so?

Time to think again.

When someone comes to you to sound off, there’s a good chance they’re indeed looking for advice. But there’s also a good chance all that person wants is space to vent.

Is this person seeking advice or venting? That is the question.

We must understand when a person is venting versus when they’re seeking a solution. Let’s dive deeper.


When we vent, the last thing we want to hear is somebody giving us advice. Venting is disjointed. Venting is a stream of consciousness. Venting is word and emotion dumpage bundled together.

Is this a time to provide advice? Is the person who’s venting ready for a solution?

Hell no.

Imagine giving advice when you yourself are venting to a friend. You lay it all out there, only to hear your friend attempt to fix everything.

That’s when we get to “you don’t understand what I’m going through” or “that won’t work.”

If life were that simple.

As much as we want to be supportive, it’s in moments of hearing others vent that we must fight back the urge to “resolve the matter.” No ribbon bow just yet.

To return to Dr. Brewer, “Don’t just do something, sit there.”

Sit and listen. Let your friend dump all their thoughts, feelings, and baggage for as long as they need to do so. Don’t plot how you’re going to make things right. It’s hard to listen when you’re already figuring out what you’re going to say that will save the day.

Don’t be a hero. Humbly sit there and face the music.


The venting is done. Congratulations! Thank you for serving as the sacrificial lamb, the punching bag, the doormat to your friend’s hardships.

It was a rough experience. Now let time dissipate. As the adage goes, “time heals all wounds.” Your friend needs to quell emotions and make sense of the situation.

Let time pass. and when the moment is right, reengage with that person.

But how do we know the time is right? Simply ask. “Do you want to figure this out?” Or even better, your friend comes to you asking, “what should I do?”

At this point, the person has communicated they want to come up with a solution. It’s now your turn to do the talking. Either you give advice, or (and this takes maturity to check your ego), you recognize you don’t have the credentials to provide the proper advice/help.

We can’t expect to have the solution to all your friend’s problems. We all have different expertise. The person you seek out for financial advice may not be the same person you seek out for relationship advice.

And that’s ok.

It’s your job to recognize your gaps and let others fill them in, not for your sake but for your friend’s sake. Find somebody who will best address your friend’s problem.

Trust the Process

It’s a simple progression. Vent — compartmentalize— resolve.

First, let the person vent. Allow for nothing to be left unsaid.

Next, give the individual space to compartmentalize — or make sense of the situation once emotions have quelled. Detachment can lead to clarity.

Finally, get to resolving the matter. Whether it’s you personally playing the problem-solver or referring the matter to somebody better equipped to handle it.

Don’t just do something, sit there. Only after sitting do you do something.

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