When is the best time to give advice?
And the answer is… never.
And by never, I mean not ever. Unless, of course, we specifically ask the person if they are looking for our thoughts or suggestions regarding their troublesome situation, AND they reply “yes!” or they explicitly request our advice (but even then the person rarely actually wants your advice – they just want you to fix their problem for them which, of course, none of us can actually 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 actually terrible at taking our own advice – so rather, if only they’d do what we thinkthey 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, and validated. Most of the time, unless otherwise overtly specified by them, that’s all. 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.
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 heard and acknowledged, 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 about what makes sense and works well for us than someone who hasn’t spent a lifetime in our shoes.
It’s funny how most of us REALLY like to give others advice and think we know what their solution is and what is best for them and can even upset ourselves tremendously if they don’t do what we think they should do, but if you think about it, how many of us REALLY like to get advice and expertise about our lives from someone else? Of course we’re allowed to have our own thoughts and opinions about others. And often it’s most effective when we keep those opinions to ourselves.
And in the case of this article here? Take what’s useful and leave the rest. AND of COURSE 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.