Have you been in a situation or dilemma where you needed support from a friend and instead you were given unsolicited advice?
The outcome— you withdrew, felt the strain in your relationship, which impacted you and your ability to connect.
On the flipside, think about a situation where someone was talking to you about an issue that they were dealing with. They trusted you and needed a listening ear. As your heart was naturally compelled to help, you began to give advice (synonyms for advice – to aid, help, guide, suggest, recommend, consult, instruct).
As good as your intention was, giving unsolicited advice didn’t actually solve the problem. Nor did it help open up meaningful conversation, strengthen the relationship or build trust.
HERE’S A PERSPECTIVE TO CONSIDER…
Giving advice is often a wonderful thing in relationships when it is asked for.
When advice is not invited or welcomed, it can come across as assuming, imposing, not listening or understanding, not being empathetic, questioning, being judgmental, arrogant, or being unsupportive. Rather than bridging connection between two people, it does the opposite. It brings disconnection.
I think of some difficult situations I have faced where all I needed was a listening ear. When unsolicited advice was given, it felt like “a heart crusher” where I felt not listened to, misunderstood, and so alone (even though I truly know that this wasn’t the other person’s intention).
On the flipside, I think of the times when my kids needed me as a friend to listen and be open, and I stepped into my parenting/coaching role and gave unsolicited advice. The impact was that it closed down the conversation in the moment making it difficult to trust.
HOW DO YOU RESPOND WHEN SOMEONE SHARES WITH YOU A DILEMMA THAT THEY ARE DEALING WITH?
- Do you respond by fixing… or problem solving?
- Do you want to contribute and help a person find a solution to their dilemma or problem?
As noble as believing that you are helping the person in need is, this isn’t always the best choice to make and ultimately what the other person desires. When you position yourself as “the advice giver” (when it is not called for) there is backlash; your good intentions may be misinterpreted. The other person may end up feeling unseen, unheard and possibly misunderstood.
HERE ARE SOME EXAMPLES TO ILLUSTRATE:
- Brittany – “My boyfriend and I are having trouble getting along. This has been going on for some time. Every conversation we have seems to end up in a conflict. Our relationship is so difficult”.
- Friend’s response – “The writing is on the wall… He is not the right guy for you. When relationships are difficult, something is definitely wrong. You should end the relationship and move on.”
- Carl – I never seem to have enough time to do the things that are important to me. I feel like I am on a treadmill going nowhere. I am so stressed and exhausted. There is way too much going on in my life!
- Friend’s response – You have to make time for yourself and this is costing you. You need perspective. What you need to do is sign up for the yoga classes that I am taking. It will definitely help you deal with the stress and energize you.
Unsolicited opinions, comments and advice that is given, can have an unintended effect and actually brings stress and harm to the relationship.
Consider a different response…
Let’s look back at the examples that were illustrated. What would be another way to respond?
Empathy is a doorway to discovering greater understanding and connection in a relationship. What is possible when you listen to connect?
What insights would be discovered?
- In Brittany’s case – What her friend didn’t know was that Brittany and her boyfriend had both been through very difficult breakups and they were dealing with a lot of fear. They were trying to learn how to trust again and they were having a real hard time. Rather than telling Brittany what to do, what if her friend had given her the emotional support she needed and simply listened?
- In Carl’s situation – His friend didn’t know that business was struggling and that Carl was working long hours trying to figure out how to provide for his family. He was having trouble paying the bills and felt depressed. Rather than diagnosing him, giving him solutions and telling him what he needed, what if he listened and was there to simply support his friend?
The reality is that many people in life are going through many difficult situations and what they really want is simple…
They want someone to talk to.
They want to be listened to.
They want someone to care.
Given the opportunity to express their feelings and emotions in an atmosphere of love, acceptance and support, they often do find their own answers. Attentive and active listening is an amazing process!
HOW TO LISTEN MORE EFFECTIVELY:
- Listen to discover and understand with patience and acceptance.
- Resist the need to fix – Hold the person as creative, resourceful and whole. Trust that the answers lie within them.
- Engage in meaningful conversations – Ask questions about what you don’t know and be curious to know more about their life.
- Ask permission – If you feel an intuitive nudge and have something you would like to share, ask permission to share your thoughts.
Listen well, ask before giving advice and see how it strengthens your relationships.