Do you know anyone that always has advice to give? No matter what the topic, they are the first to say what they think. If you ask my close friends and family this question, they would probably have me in mind. As this blog clearly demonstrates, I do tend to offer my opinions and sometimes admittedly may come across as a know-it-all. However there are no bad intentions and I do know it all!!
No fun and jokes aside, even though I give my opinions, they are just that. I don't profess to be right and most of what I say is based on experiences. Nonetheless I have learnt along the way that sometimes it is best not to give advice and to just listen as 'We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves.' - Galileo Galilei
If someone feels like they have come to a conclusion themselves, they are far more susceptible to going with that decision and thinking it is right for them, than you telling them what is right for them.
We can ask probing or leading questions to get them to come to a conclusion, however in the long run it is better for them to discover their own truth, than for them to be force fed to digest and live by our truths.
The problem with advising and giving too many opinions as opposed to letting others find their own answers, is that we can inadvertently encourage them to set limitations based on our beliefs and experiences. Or worse still we may just purely give them the wrong advice. It may be good for us, but not good for them.
This happens very often with parents and their children. For example a Mother fears heights and her adventurous daughter loves climbing trees, rock climbing, whatever she can climb she will. She says there is a school trip and they will go mountain climbing. She is eager and asks permission.
Mother convinces daughter that it is not a good idea and is dangerous. She says no. Now the problem here is Mother's reason behind deterring her daughter is the Mother's own ingrown fears. In fact that daughter would most likely love the adrenalin rush and the challenge due to her adoration of climbing. Imagine how much her confidence would be boosted if she climbed to the summit? However Mother would have robbed her of that experience by saying no and emphasizing the danger as the reason. Are you with me?
Now as responsible parents or caring friends/family members, we may think that what we say is for their own good. In the above scenario the Mother genuinely feels there is danger and there is potentially. However is she considering the daughter or herself? One would assume there would be safety measures taken by the school to minimise the risk right?
Or what about your BFF asking you whether she should keep dating her dead beat (in your opinion) man? Please do not answer these types of questions. It is better to ask her questions like what are the pros and cons of remaining in the relationship? What is the top 10 attributes you want in a partner and how many of those attributes does he possess? Whatever it will take to permit her to come to her own conclusion. Then when she does, let her know you support that decision. Point being, choose your battles and this would always be a losing one for you.
Remember that when someone pours their heart out they may just want a sounding board. Think of a sounding board, chances are it cannot speak, so perhaps you shouldn't either.
Be a facilitator. Acknowledge them with a few oks and reallys and Mmm hmmms. Nod, have eye contact or even offer a shoulder to cry on and a hug of comfort. Other than that we could do just as well to zip it, listen, and only offer opinions when asked. If unsure just ask sincerely, ' do you want my opinion or do you just want me to listen?' At least they asked to hear it.
For those of us that go to others wanting someone to share our thoughts with and we get unwanted advice. In the nicest possible way, simply say ' Thanks bit no thanks. If it is ok I really would like if you could just listen.'