Read time: 7 minutes
The Internet is indeed serious bizness. With the abundance of easily available information, it’s tempting to throw this information around without restraint especially as an opportunity for self-aggrandizement. But there’s the subtle art of dishing things out, be it facts, opinions or advice in a healthy manner. If it’s out of excitement, we can somehow forgive or tolerate the other person. But if it’s out of being a condescending dick, hold on to that fork, we’re about to get into a bar fight. One important thing to keep in mind especially with relationships is when & how to give advice.
Each of us is unique in that we find ourselves in different phases, come from different places, and are in differing emotional states. Relationships work from the foundation of your ability to connect. Along with many other things, this entails genuine respect and can be strained by assumptions.
In the self-help world there has been plenty written about this, for it does showcase the social & emotional maturity of a person or simply the growth in dealings with others. Mistakes on giving advice is something a lot of us fall into, but it’s a critical element in promoting healthy relationships and as we become good at it, we’re bound to experience less strained feelings and less disconnect with others.
Social norms arise from what people talk about, experience, what people sense as effective, what is honest and what has evolved since the dawn of human interaction. Social norms didn’t just show up one day because some douche wanted it – it’s brought forth or developed through collective experience.
Here are 7 keys to remember in giving good advice that actually helps and that people will respond to.
1.) REMEMBER THAT NO TYPE OF ADVICE IS WORSE THAN UNSOLICITED ADVICE
Make sure the person actually wants it. Give it with permission. Let it be made clear: Unsolicited advice doesn’t work because it operates from a position of having assumptions. It is unhealthy or toxic, for it eventually hurts relationships or simply pushes people away.
Giving unsolicited advice often backfires for it is like being an annoying back seat driver. The person may know enough, is already familiar with what happened, may be trying out something different, ‘is getting there’ or may know what to do next already. If they need more, they’ll say it. You’ll have to give with permission because you don’t know what you don’t know.
Oftentimes unwelcome advice ends up coming off as condescending, presumptuous, belittling, arrogant or plainly disrespectful as if let’s say, you, completely understand what is in someone’s head or what someone’s thinking of – of course, it’s quite presumptuous for you to think so. If anything, if you still insist, it’s only going to show you’re a complete dick. As mentioned, it’s operating from a position of assumption. Relationships get strained the moment disconnect comes in due to those assumptions.
One may say, not all unsolicited advice operates from assumptions, sure there are exceptions, but there’s more to it and is discussed in the last key as you read on.
2.) EMPATHIZE INSTEAD OF FIXING
Know what state the person is in or know the wall he or she seems to be facing. Understand their pain. A lot of times people just need a support to get through their problem. Experiencing something is different than knowing something. Dishing out what you know to another person without realizing the root cause of the circumstance would only complicate things.
Release that pressure to fix or solve. Know that it’s a process the other finds himself or herself in. Let me write that again, it’s a process.
Find out where the person is and don’t base the advice from where you are. Think with your friend as you talk with your friend. Join your friend in the process of figuring it out.
When somebody or you is in a process like let’s say driving a car, you are more or less capable of figuring out what’s next. But then there comes that backseat driver getting ahead of what you’re doing or what you’re about to do – it’s annoying and upsetting.
The backseat driver without even knowing it may even think you don’t know how to drive at all because you’re so annoyed that you end up making a mistake and you get the “See I told you, I’m right” attitude – unfortunately our brain, thanks to our biases, works like this.
The ability to empathize is one hallmark of an emotionally mature person. For someone who’s just too focused on the end result, being overly procedural rather than being in or relating to the process would only help show someone’s a control freak or a social robot.
3.) LISTEN & ASK QUESTIONS
Part of empathizing is listening and asking questions. In connection to the previous key, make sure you know what you’re talking about or what needs to be talked about. Know what they are truly concerned about. Get the facts. Once you do so, you’ll be able to ask the right questions which would help your friend explore many angles or solutions to what they are facing and increase your odds of actually helping.
A friend of mine recently shared how she usually gets to give advice. She says she lets her friends open up first and once she gets that she’s welcome to contribute; that’s when she starts giving her two cents. By allowing her friends to open up first she gets a pretty good picture of the issue and naturally allows her friends to welcome her into the conversation. You may get permission explicitly but intuitively it becomes a social skill, which is why empathizing is important as discussed in the previous key.
What is critical with her method is when she said “she lets her friends open up first” – what this reflects is genuine concern & understanding. Many people talk about methods and lines but the attitude we give in varying social situations matters a lot. You’re only going to push people away when you give off the attitude of impatience – quickly jumping in without knowing what truly happened.
As cheesy as it may sound relationships are meant to be enjoyed and cherished with a healthy presence. So enjoy listening to your friend. For somebody to quickly jump in and quickly give unsolicited advice actually reflects some sort of emotional unavailability or one’s fears. It can tell more about you or your fears rather than the person you’re thinking of dishing advice to.
4.) DIFFERENTIATE FACTS FROM OPINIONS & MAKE SURE YOU DO KNOW THE FACTS
I usually say “It’s a complex issue” when I hear a freight train of unsolicited opinion-advice involved with facts coming through. It helps release the tension. There are many people who give facts and when they are wrong, they say they are only sharing their opinions. It’s funny but it happens every day.
When you do feel the need to share some facts, with the help of number 3, make sure you do know the facts very well. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know well enough on a certain topic or issue. Don’t be pressured to solve the problem that you end up discussing things you may not know about.
5.) ASK YOURSELF WHY YOU WANT TO GIVE ADVICE & TRY GIVING IT TO YOURSELF FIRST
Maybe it’s an advice you can’t take yourself. Maybe you’re just jealous. Maybe you don’t have the patience yourself if faced with that problem. Maybe it’s a fear you have yourself. Maybe you just want to look cool by having someone look so low. Maybe you just want somebody to talk to. Maybe maybe maybe.
6.) IT’S THEIR ACTIONS NOT THEIR CHARACTER
We all screw up. In spite of our good intentions, sometimes we still end up making mistakes. By empathizing you’ll be able see more about your friend’s intentions. As the saying would go, we don’t really know what’s in another person’s heart. So before you start dishing things with criticism of what you don’t like or even hate, hate the actions but not the person or his character.
7.) IF YOU HAVE TO GIVE IT, MAKE SURE YOU’RE GOING TO HIT THE MARK
Of course, there will be exceptions but before you start dishing things, make sure it really is an exception. Understand though that you can’t save everyone. The important thing is (by now you would notice this theme here), you’re not operating from assumptions.
This part requires a substantial amount of social skills or a great deal of experience with people. You may even add, emotional intelligence. There are people who are just that good with reading other people, not confusing their own insecurities or their own issues, at the same time dishing things without coming off as jerk but someone who does his best to put himself in someone else’s shoes.
Unless you’re someone who spent a big amount of time understanding human behavior, a Mentalist like Patrick Jane, or a trained millionaire poker player, or are just that good with reading people, your chances are most likely small. The reality is a lot of us are not conditioned to give advice effectively for a lot of us are not masters of our own emotions that we oftentimes project our own negative feelings, frustrations, and baggage easily onto others. And many times, without knowing it, we’re already dishing it to the people we care about.