Advice is a tricky thing.
If you think advice is wonderful, consider how you react when you get it, especially the unsolicited kind. We are all better givers than receivers in this regard.
I try not to give advice anymore. Except as an anonymous presence on-line, of course. But many of us are different variants of ourselves in the online world. And, even there, I try to keep it context based. “What works for me” and phrases of that type. But in the real world, I now prefer to keep my mouth shut most of the time.
Being an advice giver can become problematic if your suggestions don’t go well. I hate it when people are mad at me and advice giving often leads to that outcome. Not that it was always my fault. I’ve had friends complain in the past about the result of a course of action I suggested only to find out they didn’t really follow it.
That’s a big part of the problem with giving advice. People tend not to adhere to the directions. Most of the time people don’t really want advice. They want you to listen to the course of action they’ve decided on and have you agree that it’s wonderful and will turn out well.
They’re not interested in the problems a less-invested observer might see. They want confirmation and that’s it.
When it comes to advice, there’s also the problem of flying blind. You never have all the facts. People think they tell you everything but what they really tell you is what they want you to know. Therefore, any advice you give is based on an incomplete picture
Without a complete set of information, any attempt to generate useful advice is doomed to failure.
Sometimes, people ask for advice when what they want is an ear, a chance to vent. It’s important to understand that too.
What to do, however, when people continue to ask? When they insist?
I told people I was getting out of the advice business some time back, but my protestations fell on deaf ears. I have a bit of a reputation in my circle as a problem-solver. I’m the person who is honest, even if it means I’m not one hundred percent on “team my-friend”, though I do worry a great deal over hurt feelings in those situations.
I told them I was quitting and they smiled and nodded, but the requests keep coming. People tend not to listen to things they don’t want to hear.
It’s not that I’ve had advice go particularly bad, though that’s probably due to pure luck. I’m just tired of feeling responsible for other people’s actions. I’m tired of being pulled into situations that don’t change.
Rather than continuing to protest that I was out of the game, and rather than giving in, I decided to engage in conversations that ultimately put the decision-making back in their court.
I explore what I would do. I discuss the actions I’d take or the things I’d say if it was happening to me. I also point out the ways in which I differ from the person I am talking to. I remind them that what works for me might not work for them. I point out the reasons I might choose a different path than the one they’re contemplating, and what consequences I can see rising up from each course of action.
I ask them what they’d advise someone else. What would they do if a friend, child, or relative came to them with a similar problem? What action would they recommend?
I ask them what they want to have happen. What is the end result they’re going for? I try to introduce balance here. I try to get them to embrace or at least understand the other’s perspective. Often the questions are about relationships. Carry on, yay or nay. Confront over this or that.
We forget too often that other people are not us. They think in different ways, process in different ways, feel different things, and have different histories. This can impact day-to-day life and conflict in interesting ways. Recognizing differences can cool things down. It’s important for people to remember that what they perceive as a personal attack can sometimes be a function of something as simple as a different operating system.
I don’t like to give advice and I’m trying to stop. We have to make our own choices and live our own lives. But I don’t mind being a sounding board or helping people work out the answers on their own.
I’d rather have a reputation as a good listener anyhow.
Do you give advice? Do you seek it?