How to (NOT) Give Advice
We want to solve things. Puzzles, riddles, math problems and other peoples’ problems in life. When people come to us with a problem, it is almost instinctual to attempt to solve it. This is due to us wanting to help as well as our desire to solve problems. When we ourselves are not experiencing the problem, we actually have an advantage of seeing different perspectives and finding solutions more easily then the person experiencing it. So when others come to us to talk about a problem why do they seem to not want our “good” advice?
Try to think of the last time you were upset and wanted to talk about it. Did you want someone to solve your problem for you so you could be done with it, or did you want to vent about it and feel that your feelings were validated? Typically when others begin to vent to us about an issue, they generally want to let it out and feel validated. We do not usually take the advice of others (no matter how thoughtful it is) because we like being in control, especially when it comes to our own lives.
So what do we do when someone comes to us with an issue? This article will provide easy to follow steps of how to handle situations in which others “ask for advice.”
Examples are useful so let’s start with one. Your friend comes to you and says they are unhappy with their job and they do not know what to do. If you were giving advice you might say “find a new job” “go back to school” or “you’re just having a bad week; you love your job.” While these are all possible solutions we did not really find out what our friend is thinking or feeling.
When others come to us with a problem the first step is to ask questions. Find out why they are having this problem and how they feel. If we asked a question such as, “what about your job do you feel unhappy with?” we could gain more information about the problem. They might say, “well I love what I do, but I do not like my hours.” If we had told them to, “go back to school and find a new career,” we would have accidentally given them advice that they would not have wanted. Their issue is not the job itself but the hours.
Now that we have more information we still do not want to solve their problem for them. We can keep asking questions to help them talk it out until they find their own solution. Try asking questions like “what kind of hours would you like?” and “does your career type typically have hours that you would like?” Our job is not to solve their problem, but we can help guide them to exploring the answers they already have just by asking them questions. They may not find their solution in that moment, but they will feel heard and validated when you show in interest in them by asking questions.
Explore Positive Qualities
Another tip to (not) giving advice is to mention positive qualities about the person. Let’s say our friend comes up to us and discusses their concerns about whether or not they should ask for a raise at work. Instead of telling them whether or not they should do it and how to do it we may want to start with building their confidence and letting them find their own way that they feel comfortable with. They understand themselves and their boss/work environment better than we do so they would really have the best solution for themselves. We could point out their positive qualities such as “I know you’re a very hard worker” or “you’ve been there for a while and seem great at taking on new responsibilities”. We have to be careful with giving them advice here because if we tell them to ask for the raise and it goes badly they may become upset with us. We want to be there for those we care about but we want to make sure when it comes to their life decisions we are putting the ball in their court. We can also use those questions we talked about earlier such as asking “when was your last raise?” or “what kind of mood does your boss seem in lately?”. These questions will help them reflect on the situation and guide them towards making a decision.
Discuss Possible Solutions
A tricky area of giving advice is the chance we take in accidentally shooting down a solution they have already come up with. If they state a problem to us we should start with asking more questions and mentioning their positive qualities. This gives them a chance to tell us what possible solutions they are thinking of. This technique can stop us from accidentally giving them a solution that goes against the solutions they have in mind. Imagine your friend tells you they are having problems with their spouse. They go into stories about how bad it is getting. We may start giving them advice on how to get out of the relationship or how they can do so much better. But what if they are leaving out the part that they do not want to leave them? By telling them to leave we may actually push our friend away from us because now they think we have a negative view of their spouse and their relationship. Love advice can be the trickiest of them all. The safe bet is to ask questions such as “what do you want to do?” or “what would staying with them feel like for you and what would leaving them feel like for you?”. By asking them about multiple options you are forcing them to think about the possible solutions rather than putting you in an uncomfortable situation in which you feel you need to make an opinion on the situation.