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The worst thing you can do when someone asks you for advice about what they should do, is to give them your advice.
I’ve watched the Married at First Sight TV program over a few weeks. I can mostly ignore the crafty editing and emotional manipulation of viewers and participants that are a part of reality TV. What I do see and appreciate is how people struggle to be with another person.
In the final week of the eight weeks’ experiment of living with a partner the ‘experts’ had chosen for them, the couples were sent home to consider whether they should continue in the relationship or to finish it. The cameras followed participants as they met with family or friends and asked them, “What should I do”.
Invariably the family member or friend would tell them they should stay or they should leave the relationship. After each of these meetings the participants disclosed that they were now more confused than ever. While this made for good television it was not necessarily a helpful thing for the confused participant.
What can you do when someone asks you for advice?
- Trust that the other person actually knows what is best for them. When people are trying to make a decision for themselves they do feel confused and they aren’t clear about what they should do. They ask for advice hoping that you might have a magic wand, a bag of fairy dust or a magic bullet that will relieve them of their uncertainty about their difficult issue. Their answer needs to come from them, from their heart and from their mind. If you give your opinion too soon you will only add to their confusion and stop them from coming to a decision themselves.
- Instead of giving them an answer to their question, first of all acknowledge their dilemma. Let them know that you see they are struggling with the decision. Don’t rush into relieving their distress or their confusion. This won’t help them. People need to grapple with the issues and come to know what is best for them through this process. There is nothing wrong with them being unsure about what to do. It may mean that you also have to share some of their uncertainty and discomfort of not knowing the answer.
- Walk beside your friend during this process. Realise that it is a journey for them to come to a decision about what they need to do. While it is their decision they do not have to feel completely alone because you are there, experiencing the ambiguity with them. You are walking beside them as a companion. You are not ahead of them as a know-it-all leader and you are not behind them directing where they should go. You are beside them as a companion on their journey.
Is it ever right to give advice?
Yes it is. When someone asks for factual information that you may have. Listen carefully to the question so that you are not giving your opinion but you would be giving factual information. Then leave them space and time to process this information and let it contribute to their final decision about what they should do.
People who do try to answer and give their opinion about what someone else should do can be drawn into the unhelpful Drama Triangle. One way you know that this may have happened is if you hear the other person say “yes but…” This is a good indicator that you have been a Rescuer. If this is the case, then step back, acknowledge that the other person is grappling with their question and encourage them to trust their heart and their mind together.
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.