5 Rules for giving advice
“We hate to have some people give us advice because we know how badly they need it themselves.”
– Laurence J. Peter
“When a man comes to me for advice, I find out the kind of advice he wants, and I give it to him.”
– Josh Billings
“Pay attention… Sometimes it’s the person giving you the medicine who’s making you sick.”
– Steve Maraboli
“People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’re lost.”
— Dalai Lama
Does this sound familiar?
“Try to do this….”
“This is what you need to do…”
“Have you tried….?”
“If I was you, I would…”
Life is full of advice and mummy life even more so with advice flowing from each direction.
It’s kind of natural.
When people talk about their problems, we automatically want to help them, fix things, make them feel better… So giving them advice is basically a reflex.
While it comes from the best possible place, the truth is, that most of the time, people don’t want your advice. They just want you to listen. Only rarely they seek advice and if they do, they ask for it.
Now, I want you to read this sentence and observe how it makes you feel:
If you give unsolicited advice, you actually undermine the other person’s intelligence for you believe they cannot work it out themselves.
When I first heard this statement, it made me slightly irritated but at the same it, it was as though a lightbulb has been lit up.
As much as I hated to admit it, there is a lot of truth in it. For some reason, people often assume that the other person hasn’t already thought of the solution we offer to them.
Of course, as in everything in life, it all depends on individual circumstances, and sometimes even unwanted advice can help someone improve their life. However – more often than not – it can cause more harm than good.
That is what I put together a list of five simple rules to bear in mind when giving advice.
Let’s dive straight in!
1. Don’t base your advice purely on your personal experience
If we have a very bad or very good experience life, it’s only natural that we want others to (not) experience it too. So in a belief that we help others, we share our advice wherever we go, regardless of if people ask for it or not.
I had done this in the past too.
In my first marriage, our problems began as soon as we had moved in together. So I naturally thought that the biggest mistake that eventually led to divorce was to not move in before we got married.
After we got divorced, I thought I knew it all and advised all couples I came across to never get married without living together first.
(Today, I feel truly sorry for those couples I sure as hell must have freaked out with my ‘wisdom’ and unsolicited advice. If you are one of those couples, please accept my apology!)
Funny thing is, when I met my current husband, I made the decision to start a family with him (which is a way more of a commitment than marriage) without the need to live with him first. I just knew it would work. And it did.
The lesson I learned here is that only because things did not work with my ex-husband, doesn’t mean it would not work for anyone else.
Just because your parents got divorced, doesn’t mean you will too. Just because your partner cheated on you, doesn’t mean ‘all men are evil’.
Just because your friend struggled to conceive at a higher age, doesn’t mean every woman in the same position would struggle too. Just because your child started to sleep only after you tried the ‘cry it out method’, doesn’t mean this will work for your friends’ children too.
All in all, you can always share what you know – of course, but never present your views and opinions as they are the ultimate truth. Otherwise, you can plant an unnecessary plant of doubt, fear, worry, or false hope that can cause more damage than good.
2. Don’t give advice unless people ask for it
I touched this a little above, but this is rule number one.
Stop giving unsolicited advice.
Most of the time, people don’t really want your advice. They want you to listen, they want comfort, they want to feel understood.
Don’t try to fix their problems. That is not your job.
Without being asked what they should do, you assume they don’t know what to do or can’t figure it out themselves.
When we tell someone what to do, we are (unintentionally) implying that we know better than them and that they’re emotionally or intellectually incapable of making that decision or knowing what to do in a particular situation.
It can be insulting to a lot of people if they feel as though their abilities are underestimated. And we can sometimes end up looking like a bad person, however good our conscious intentions were.
Where you would naturally offer advice, try to ask: “Is there anything I can do to help?” This way, you will support the other them way more than you would by showering them with an avalanche of (however well-meant) advice.
3. Ask yourself – Who am I to be giving anyone advice?
This can be a hard pill to swallow for the ego.
Take a look at your own life. Take a look at the decisions you’ve made. The things you did and now regret.
When we are honest with ourselves, we realise that we are in no position to give advice. We’ve made too many mistakes ourselves.
4. Bear in mind that you never see the full picture
We almost never have enough information about the situation to give good advice. Especially when it comes to big life decisions like marriage or career advice.
What people tell you can also be just the tip of the iceberg.
We never fully understand the position the other person is in. Not even when it’s our loved ones.
We assume everyone sees the world exactly how we do which is not the case and the sooner we accept it, the more help and support we can give others.
Asking good questions is better than telling someone, “Here’s what you need to do.” Instead of trying to fix their problems or save them, try to empower them instead. Make them feel strong and capable of finding the solution themselves.
Ask them what they think is the best thing to do first.
This will help you understand what they want to do. It is likely that they’ve already thought of all the things that you might advise them. They get to lead the way and you don’t give advice that might make you seem pushy or a know-it-all. You just let them talk.
These are my views on giving advice in a nutshell.
I know it’s quite ironic that I’m giving advice and the advice is not to give advice, but hopefully, it will help you on some level.
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