When to Give Advice (or Not!)

The hardest part of any relationship – friend, relative, lover, co-worker – is knowing when not to say anything. Especially if you hear someone talking about something you know is a bad idea. We’ve all had extreme thoughts to comments like these: “My boyfriend is moving in”… “I’m going to take a year off and write a screenplay”… “There’s this investment…” “Should I leave my wife?” Find out what we recommend on how to give advice or not!

Listen without interrupting
Sounds so simple, yet it’s so hard! All day we practice making quick decisions about our businesses, our emails, how to navigate the evening commute. But relationships aren’t about split-second decisions. They are about support, kindness and giving to another person. By simply listening to someone talk through their feelings and experiences, you allow them to hear themselves and find their own center in the midst of their chaos. Let them talk until they reach a point of closure. Patience is love in practice.

Don’t give unsolicited advice
However, you are allowed to ask for clarity. Say “Would you like some feedback, or do you just want to be heard?” or “I have some ideas about your situation, but maybe you need more time to process it right now,” are two ways to kindly let someone know that you want to help, but can just be there for support as well. Most people know what the “answer” is to their problem. They just need the strength so that they can accept the next step. They are sharing for their own benefit, not to give you the opportunity you’ve been waiting for to finally tell them what to do.

Tread lightly when love is in question
If a friend asks, “Should we break up?” don’t answer the question directly. The ending of a relationship, no matter how casual, may be the most personal decision a person can make. Even if you are sure that this partnership is not a healthy one, and perhaps they will split, you never know how many times they will have to be in each other’s lives before they finally let go. Once you have taken a side, there’s no going back.

Remember, caring for someone doesn’t mean never letting them get hurt. Growth doesn’t come from a perfect life. It comes from making mistakes. We take comfort in others’ experiences, but we learn from our own. You may have hard-earned advice from your own life. You can offer it with an open hand to another. But once you have said your peace, believe yourself to be heard. Don’t bring it up over and over again.

So, yes, you probably DO have the best advice in the world. You earned it by living your life. And the gift you can give to your friend is to let them live theirs so that they can receive the gift of experience just like you.

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