Have you ever noticed when you try to give advice, sometimes it ends up backfiring? Either the person argues with you, gets mad at you for giving your opinion, or doesn’t end up taking your advice at all?
Most of these issues stem from our egos. It feels good to think that we have all the solutions. We like to pat ourselves on the back because we are “helping.” It makes us feel in control, experienced, and wise. We think of ourselves as the Great and Powerful Oz with the answers to everyone’s problems. But if this were really the case, giving advice would always go smoothly. Once we pull back the curtain, it’s apparent that we are really trying to make ourselves feel better, not the other person.
Here are the most important questions to ask ourselves to make sure our minds and hearts are in the right place before offering advice to someone:
When someone approaches us with a concern, it’s only natural that we would want to solve their problems for them. After all, we want to help, and it appears that they are coming to us for this very reason. But this is not always the case.
Many times, people come to us to vent and commiserate, not for solutions. In these situations, they want to have their fears or frustrations validated. What they want to hear from us is, “Wow! I can’t believe that happened to you! I’m so sorry!”
When we instead tell them what they should be doing to fix the problem, it can feel like we are belittling their situation, and offering advice can actually come off as condescending. What they hear from us is, “Why are you making this a big deal? You could easily solve it if you just did this.” It makes us sound like insensitive know-it-alls. If someone is coming to us for support, it’s important that we listen to them and provide the comfort they are seeking rather than solutions.
So, how do we know when someone is actually seeking our opinion? That leads us to our second question:
Someone who wants our opinion will ask, “What do you think I should do?” or, “Do you think I did the right thing?” This is our cue that they are looking for our help.
And in order to provide solutions, we need to make sure we have really listened to the problem first. Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to come up with the answer that we aren’t giving our full attention to what the other person is saying. We might assume we know where their story is going or think we have it figured out before they are even done speaking. In the process, we might miss a key piece of vital information or make large assumptions that are completely wrong.
It’s important that we aren’t distracted and that we don’t interrupt. Let the other person finish, even if it means their story goes on longer than we would like. Once we have given them our full attention, they can give us theirs. (Link to the listening article??)
Just because someone asks for our advice, it doesn’t mean that we must have the solution. There are times when people are going through something we just can’t relate to or that we have very little experience with. In these cases, the best advice we can give is that they find someone else who might be able to help more than we can. It’s okay to say, “I haven’t really been through something like that before. I’m not sure what you should do. Do you know anyone who has been through a similar situation that you can ask?”
Likewise, there may be other reasons that we aren’t the best person for the job. Maybe we are too close to the situation and don’t feel that we can be objective. Or maybe we don’t feel comfortable giving our honest opinion to someone we don’t know very well. We can’t be expected to have the answers all the time.
Remember that advice is just an opinion, however well-informed it may be. We might think our solution is a foolproof answer to the other person’s situation, but we have not walked in their shoes. Even if we have had a similar experience, there are a multitude of other factors that go into making a big decision.
Our job as advice givers is to inform and motivate the other person to make their own decision. We can say, “This is what happened to me, and this is what I think you should do.” We can give them insight, suggestions, and perhaps even research to guide them, but we cannot force them to take our advice.
If the thought that the other person might not follow our suggestions is upsetting, then the advice is not coming from a truly selfless place. Someone may be incredibly grateful for our help and yet still choose to make a different decision. That doesn’t mean our opinions were dismissed and invalidated.