Giving advice may be tempting, yet, it isn’t always wanted. Instead, you can develop skills to be a better listener and support the people around you.
Listening to someone without telling them what to do can be challenging. Practicing active listening and compassion for others can help you listen without giving them your opinion.
When you listen to someone talk about their life or challenges, it may be tempting to give advice. Sometimes your advice may be unsolicited.
There are ways to listen without inserting your opinion or stating what you would do. While you may have had similar experiences to the person you’re listening to, sometimes that individual may want a kind and listening ear.
There’s a risk of being vulnerable to others. So if someone is sharing something vulnerable with you, and you want to do something about it, it’s always best to ask before jumping into action.
Sometimes a person wants a listening ear. Giving advice or trying to take action yourself, especially unsolicited, could worsen the situation.
You may say “Do you just want to be heard or would you like to hear my thoughts?”
If you’re listening to understand rather than respond, you’re practicing active listening. Active listening requires being mindful and in the present moment with the speaker so you can focus on what they’re trying to say.
- focus on the speaker
- listen to what the speaker is saying — even if it’s not what you want to hear
- use your own words to paraphrase what you heard them say
- ask clarifying questions if you need help understanding
- avoid judgment
- avoid making assumptions
- don’t formulate a response until you have heard the entire message
Active listening can help you listen without giving input.
If someone is being vulnerable with you, it may help to validate their feelings. If it’s genuine, validating someone else’s feelings can be a powerful communication tool.
Validating someone’s feelings may look like this:
- “I can understand why that was challenging for you.”
- “I would be angry too if that happened to me.”
- “I am sad that happened to you; you didn’t deserve that.”
- “I think you handled that situation well; I’m proud of you.”
Validating someone’s feelings shows the speaker you understand what they’re communicating.
When someone is vulnerable with you, throwing out many ideas and suggestions is tempting. If you’re too quick to offer advice or tell the person what you would do, they may feel unsafe expressing their message.
Avoid judging what the person is saying and offer support rather than advice. If you shame someone for expressing their emotions, they likely won’t trust or talk to you again.
Practicing compassion can help improve your relationships and overall well-being. Researchers suggest that there is no universal definition of compassion; instead, compassion is made up of several parts.
The same researchers discuss these parts involved in compassion:
- recognition of suffering
- recognition that suffering happens universally
- showing concern for those who are suffering and practicing empathy
- stabilizing yourself when listening to accounts of someone’s suffering
- a desire to or acting to help someone alleviate suffering
When compassion is applied to listening to someone without advice, recognizing someone’s challenges and showing them that you care can make a difference. If you can help them, this may show compassion, but they may not always want help.
Empathy is about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes rather than feeling sorry for the person. When you truly understand what a situation may be like for someone, it’s easier to provide support.
Active listening and reflecting feelings to the person you’re listening to can help you practice empathy. You may be sharing a challenging or joyous experience with the speaker, and understanding their emotions can help you be a safe person to talk with.
It may be helpful to ask the other person if they want to hear your experience before you tell it.
When you’re talking to someone, you may want to feel understood or hope that other people can relate to what you’re saying.
Instead of giving advice, it can sometimes be helpful to share a story of a similar challenge that you went through and how you got through it.
If someone tells you what to do, it may sound controlling. If you’ve overcome difficulties in your life, it may be helpful for the speaker to hear about your experiences and how you solved a similar problem.
Sharing a story can be helpful, but it can also be disguised as advice wrapped up in a story. If you consider using this method, try to use it sparingly and mindfully.
Not everyone you talk to wants advice. Some people may see you as a safe person to whom they can vent or want to share what’s going on without you telling them what to do.
If you’re speaking with someone and tend to give advice, stopping and practicing empathy and active listening can help the individual feel understood.
If you’re going to give advice, always ask before doing so. If someone’s vulnerable with you and you judge them, they may not see you as someone they can trust in the future.
You can improve at empathizing and listening; it just takes some practice. The more you reflect and clarify, the more you understand the other person’s message.