“Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself.”
Advice – what a loaded word. It starts out seemingly innocent. Someone has a perspective we might not see and maybe it’s helpful. Therapy, mentoring, training, parenting, and teaching are all forms of advice and these can be helpful and even necessary. Other times, maybe more often, advice strays into meddling and then control, including in the areas mentioned above. Often we think we know better, especially when it comes to others’ lives. But do we do better?
When I was 18, my best friend died, partly as a result of listening to someone else’s advice. As a result, in an effort to repair a relationship that had been damaged due to advice he had been given, he drove too quickly without wearing his seatbelt and was killed. The person who had given him the advice was a homeless drifter who charmed my impressionable friend.
It’s easy to give advice because the truth is we often have a perspective that others too close to the situation can’t see. But it’s also true that we don’t know all the facts. It seems that on both sides of the equation, the advisor and the advisee, there should be ground rules. (Ironically, in the Viet Nam conflict, military personnel were initially called “advisors.”)
For the one giving advice, I recommend the following guidelines:
· Before offering advice, ask this question: “Do you want my advice or did you just need to talk?”
· Wait ten seconds before speaking.
· Ask a lot of questions.
· Put yourself in the other person’s shoes before speaking.
· Do more listening than speaking.
· Do no speaking at all. Just listen and allow the other person to come to his or her own understanding.
· Address behaviors as observations, rather than as commands to change. For example, a friend once said to me, “You don’t look people in the eye when you speak to them.” This observation changed my behavior.
· Do not be attached to the outcome.
For those seeking advice, I offer the following:
· Be prepared to hear something you may not like or agree with.
· Be careful of whom you talk to.
· Don’t talk to too many people about the same problem. You will get several different answers and feel confused.
· If you’re feeling overwhelmed when getting advice, ask your advisor to stop for a moment.
· Ask yourself if you want advice, sympathy, or someone to rescue you. Think very carefully if you’re looking for a rescue.
· Ask yourself how you came to be in your particular situation and if you might have your own answers.
· When you can, decide what it is you really want.
· Ask yourself if there are more important things to consider.
· Before speaking to anyone, give the situation time to see if it goes away on its own.
· Before speaking to anyone, write out your thoughts in a journal.
· If you choose to follow advice, take responsibility for the results of your decision to do so.
It may seem that there’s more onus on the person seeking advice. There is. When asking for advice, we’re potentially putting our lives in someone else’s hands, at least for that moment. Is the person I’m listening to someone whose own life or experience qualifies him or her to direct mine?
The inverse is true. When we are giving advice, we are literally taking someone else’s life in our hands, at least for that moment. This cannot be taken lightly. Therapists, teachers, parents, and others have a sacred calling. Before I give advice, I want to be sure I am equipped and qualified.
Ultimately, we each have to make our own decisions. People can tell us what to do, but they can’t really do it for us. Sometimes we like to think they can, or maybe we wish they could, but we are, each of us, responsible for our own lives. (It also helps to know that there are rarely perfect solutions, but there are also many right answers.)
We can all “get by with a little help from our friends.” But it is up to each of us to Get Started and Keep Going. That’s the best advice I can give.