Have you ever wondered why it is that most of us think other people want, no NEED our advice and should absolutely do what we say and make the choices we can clearly see are best from them – but then when the tables are turned and they come to us and tell us what to do, or how we should live our lives or what choices WE must make, we get irritated, resistant, frustrated and feel like they “really don’t know what they are talking about”?
So we all want to give our golden, must-be-revered advice, but very seldom are we open to the same offerings when presented by another.
It’s funny, because most of the time, even when we explicitly ask for someone else’s advice, we don’t actually want to hear what they have to say. What we are looking for is confirming or affirming of the choice or course of action we have already decided upon. And if that is not the advice they have to offer, we immediately go out to “seek another opinion” (until we hear the opinion we want to hear).
But that deep desire we have to share our unsolicited (and even our solicited) advice does come from a good place. We want to help others or we feel we need to help, but then somehow along the way we figure the way to help is to take over someone else’s life. To position ourselves as the expert on them and what they ought to do.
You see, many of us believe in earnest that we are the experts on someone else’s life and if they’d only do what we’d do – okay, scratch that because many of us are actuallyterrible at taking our own advice – so rather, if only they’d do what we think they SHOULD do, then their lives would be fixed, perfect, and all hunky dory.
But wait! How can we possibly be the expert on someone else’s life? Even if it’s someone we’ve lived with for 10, 20, or 30 years – can we actually know someone better than they know themselves? Can we really be as omniscient as this? Well maybe there’s someone out there who can, but by George tis not I.
SO, Julia, when people who come to us with their problems, complaints, challenges, hardships and belly aches and are NOT interested in our expertly curated, wisely formulated, and brilliantly thought of solutions to their problems, what the heck do they want from us?
Support and acceptance.
They are looking to be heard, acknowledged, understood, and validated (as we all are). Not to say we always need to agree with the person’s actions or choices, but by coming to us they are simply asking us to hear them and be there for them. To let them know, simply by listening and seeking to understand, that we care, that their problems matter, and that they are important.
Have you ever noticed that the best and most satisfying “problem solving” conversations you’ve had with someone when sharing your woes is when they just listen non-judgmentally to you, and really make you feel like they hear what you’re going through and where you’re coming from?
When you turn to someone in times of need what you want is to feel acknowledged and valued, and that’s typically all any of us wants.
It was one of the forefathers of modern psychotherapy, Carl Rogers, who wholeheartedly believed, researched, and experienced that given a safe, non-judgmental, caring and supportive environment most people are capable of coming to conclusions and solutions to their problems on their own.
We are often a lot smarter than we think, AND we typically know better what makes sense and works well for us than someone who has not spent a lifetime in our shoes.
Of course we’re allowed to have our own thoughts, ideas, and opinions about others. And often it’s most effective when we keep those to ourselves.
And in the case of this article here? Take what’s useful and leave the rest.
And, as an aside – if you’ve been given the explicit feedback that your unsolicited advice is most welcome and tremendously useful to others, then by all means – don’t hesitate to keep giving it! Because, goodness knows, I am definitely not the expert on your life.
If you found this valuable, please share it. And if you do, let me know so I can thank you.
I’m Julia Kristina MA, RCC, an I’m a CBT, Mindfulness, and Positive Psychology registered (aka licensed) therapist and life coach out of Vancouver BC.