There are times when you need the advice of the people you trust and respect. These special people act as your advisory council, listening to your stories and problems, and shining a light on them in ways you couldn’t have done alone.
The best advisers uplift – and empower their friends and family. They don’t try to make others’ decisions for them – instead, they lend the insight needed so others can make their own choices, whether the advice is acted on or not.
Whenever you are asked to assume an advisory role, it is both a great honor and a serious responsibility that can even lead to a touchy situation later – because some people are not ready to hear the truth, even if they ask for it. Life is far too complex for easy answers.
No two people experience the journey in the same way, and no two situations, regardless of their similarities, will be a perfect match. Good advisers are capable of deep reflection and empathy. They avoid making quick judgments. (Beware the adviser who doles out clichés or is quick to judge the people in your life.) Practicing some or all of these strategies will help you be a better confidante, and maybe help you to avoid judging yourself!
As a general rule, it’s unwise to offer advice when it hasn’t been solicited – if you do so, you risk alienating those around you – unless someone is in danger. If it’s unclear whether someone wants your input, respectfully ask their permission. With that said, there are instances when a person feels compelled to intervene, whether or not that input is requested.
If you see your lover about to make a serious mistake, it’s natural to want to warn them. When a family member repeatedly makes the same errors, you want to help them avoid it in the future. When a friend enters into an unhealthy relationship, of course you want to assist. What do you do in these difficult situations?
It’s often enough to express your concern (“I’m worried about you…”), to draw attention to what the person is going through (“You seem stressed…”), and to offer a helping hand (“If you need to talk, I am here for you.”). Each of us has to make (and hopefully learn from) our own mistakes. There is very little one can do to control the decisions that other people make. The best you can do is to offer your support, and to be there when you’re needed.
Often when someone comes to you for advice, what they really want is someone who’ll listen. Either way, the first and most important thing you can do is to lend an ear. Listen carefully to what they are saying, and if you’re confused or need to know more, ask questions. Every situation is different, so don’t assume you know what the other person is experiencing until you’ve done some digging.
You’ll be drawing on your own experience and knowledge to offer advice, but resist the temptation to switch the topic to the events of your life. Instead, imagine yourself going through what the other person is experiencing. Because you are dealing with their feelings and emotions, it helps to think from your head as well as your heart. Practicing empathy in this way will help you to avoid one of the pitfalls of advice-giving – that is, making judgments.
We’ve all heard this story – you’re out with a pal who’s recently gone through a bad breakup, and in a well-intentioned effort to make them feel better, you remark “you’re so much better off – they were such a manipulative ____.” Two weeks later the couple gets back together, and your friend stops calling you.
Weighing in with strong judgments is always dangerous, and ultimately it’s unproductive – unless the relationship is extremely abusive. To protect the already-compromised feelings and emotions of the person asking for advice, keep any and all judgments to yourself. If you need to say something, a much safer approach is to point out the partner’s behaviors that seem out of bounds, as well as how those behaviors appear to be taking a toll on your friend.
Not every problem will have a clear solution. Sometimes, brainstorming with the other person – getting all the thoughts, ideas and scenarios you can come up with out on the table – can be enough to set someone on the right path.
Finally, if you just don’t feel knowledgeable enough to give advice, you’ll want to be honest about that, so they can seek help elsewhere and not waste your time, or theirs. We all need some outside counsel, now and then – but at the end of the day, your friend must walk this path on their own, and we are ultimately responsible only for ourselves.
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