Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Group Writing: The Queen of Advice

 

The most important piece of advice I can give you: don’t take my advice. It’s not that I give bad advice — at least most of the time. But I’ve spent the last 40 years trying not to give advice. Giving advice can be an obsession, and I’m trying to cure myself of it. Let me tell you why.

For most of my life, I thought everyone was entitled to my advice, whether they wanted it or not. So I felt free to offer advice for any number of reasons:

  1. They clearly didn’t know what was good for them, based on the choices they were making historically.
  2. I was older and wiser than they were.
  3. I had better information than they had.
  4. They weren’t all that smart to begin with.
  5. I couldn’t stand to see them suffer from their own awful decisions.

I could go on, but it’s clear that I had their well-being at heart — sort of.

Until I realized I was acting like an arrogant jerk.

First of all, I recognized that even if I was asked for advice, they might not want advice at all, but only someone with whom to share. They wanted a sympathetic ear. So my first rule was to “sense out” the reason for them talking with me.

Even if they asked my advice, I would ask them what they thought the possible solutions might be. If I could put my ego aside, I might discover that they were actually the best resource for their own answers.

If they shared potential answers with me, and I was concerned whether their options would be satisfactory for them, I would explore their reasons for their options and how they thought they would be helpful. If they weren’t totally exasperated with me by then, and really wanted my input, I’d often voice my reservations about their ideas rather than give them advice.

Does this process sound like one giant dodge? In some ways, it is. But I have a good reason for doing it:

  1. I like to feel I can help empower others and nudge their minds to problem-solve.
  2. I have to avoid using the opportunity as a way to boost my own ego about how smart, clever, and powerful I am.
  3. I also have no way of knowing all the details and subtleties of the situation, and if a critical factor is not shared with me, any advice of mine could be disastrous.
  4. I also realized that I wanted to give advice because I couldn’t bear the idea of watching them suffer from their own poor decisions (especially if I’d witnessed them before).

Here’s one situation that was a great lesson for me. I knew someone who kept picking terrible guys to be in a relationship with her. They were liars, cheats, and manipulators, with huge egos. (I actually met some of them.)

This woman was pretty insecure, and she very much wanted a man in her life. One day she said to me, “I don’t know why I keep picking men who are jerks!” Rather than give her advice, I said, “I think you know early on that they’re jerks. In fact, if you paid attention to your reaction to them, a little bell would go off in your head chiming ‘Stop!’ I think you might be ignoring that bell. You’re a smart woman. Just listen to that little bell.”

That might be advice, but I refrained from psychoanalyzing her, criticizing her, criticizing them, or lecturing her. I felt like she really heard me.

She still ended up marrying a jerk, but I’m pretty sure she knew what she was getting into.

And I didn’t feed my obsession to give advice.

So if you feel compelled to give advice, you might ask yourself whether it’s for your benefit or theirs. But then, you don’t have to take my advice…

Published in Group Writing
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There are 12 comments.

  1. Stad Thatcher

    Susan Quinn: I was older and wiser than they were.

    I never let our kids make a decision that had severe consequences. But when they got old enough, I started letting them make their own decisions with advice from Dad (or Mom). It always made my heart leap whenever they followed my advice.

    Put another way, I always kept the guardrails in place (they still are), but I widened them enough so they had more room to maneuver as they saw fit.

    • #1
    • February 6, 2020, at 6:17 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  2. Stina Member

    When I offer advice, typically it’s because I need something to say that keeps conversation going.

    I’m awkward in social settings because I don’t know what to say. I am opinionated and hate small talk (and don’t know how to do it), so if I’m offering advice, it’s usually to keep conversation going.

    Unless I’m asked.

    • #2
    • February 6, 2020, at 6:52 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  3. Rodin Member

    Good advice. (Oops! You did it again!)

    • #3
    • February 6, 2020, at 7:25 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  4. Rodin Member

    But seriously: I saw a lot of my own experience in the OP. The problem with giving advice (as opposed to direction) is the saying, “you broke it, you bought it”. Advice (as opposed to direction) should be something for someone to consider and reject without consequence to a relationship. I say “as opposed to direction” because I see parental advice such as @stad spoke of as very different from any other kind of advice. When one has an obligation to steer someone else clear of a known hazard I think that is different from advice. I refer to that as “direction” even though in professional usage that is called “advice” (“On advice of my attorney…”). The difference is that rejection of direction can have consequences as between the person directing and the person receiving direction, when the direction is followed or rejected, e.g. grounding, malpractice, etc. 

    Advice should not be offered unless solicited. And even then, should be couched in terms that, as @susanquinn says, is more in the nature of probing the advisees own thinking and analysis of the situation and the alternatives. Everyone finds their own ideas more compelling. So make your advice a technique in helping them find their own idea.

    • #4
    • February 6, 2020, at 7:38 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  5. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Susan Quinn: I was acting like an arrogant jerk.

    You? An arrogant jerk?

    Hold my beer.

    • #5
    • February 6, 2020, at 7:50 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Percival (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: I was acting like an arrogant jerk.

    You? An arrogant jerk?

    Hold my beer.

    I said was @percival. I hope I act that way a lot less often! You are always so nice! Really!

    • #6
    • February 6, 2020, at 8:45 AM PST
    • 1 like
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Rodin (View Comment):

    But seriously: I saw a lot of my own experience in the OP. The problem with giving advice (as opposed to direction) is the saying, “you broke it, you bought it”. Advice (as opposed to direction) should be something for someone to consider and reject without consequence to a relationship. I say “as opposed to direction” because I see parental advice such as @stad spoke of as very different from any other kind of advice. When one has an obligation to steer someone else clear of a known hazard I think that is different from advice. I refer to that as “direction” even though in professional usage that is called “advice” (“On advice of my attorney…”). The difference is that rejection of direction can have consequences as between the person directing and the person receiving direction, when the direction is followed or rejected, e.g. grounding, malpractice, etc.

    Advice should not be offered unless solicited. And even then, should be couched in terms that, as @susanquinn says, is more in the nature of probing the advisees own thinking and analysis of the situation and the alternatives. Everyone finds their own ideas more compelling. So make your advice a technique in helping them find their own idea.

    Very fine wisdom, @rodin, as always. I like your distinction between advice and direction. Still, unless we’re talking about kids, I think either should mainly be offered only when solicited. Unless it’s a matter of danger or death.

    • #7
    • February 6, 2020, at 8:47 AM PST
    • 1 like
  8. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: I was acting like an arrogant jerk.

    You? An arrogant jerk?

    Hold my beer.

    I said was @percival. I hope I act that way a lot less often! You are always so nice! Really!

    Another trusting soul falls prey …

    • #8
    • February 6, 2020, at 8:56 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  9. Buckpasser Member
    Buckpasser Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Susan,

     

    I seem to remember awhile back you had a post on marriage advice. I responded that I couldn’t give any real advice because everyone’s situation is different. I wonder if being married for 41 years counts as different? What works for some doesn’t work for others. I will give advice very freely to my kids, but I try not to offer much to others on any topic.

    • #9
    • February 6, 2020, at 9:58 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Buckpasser (View Comment):
    I seem to remember awhile back you had a post on marriage advice. I responded that I couldn’t give any real advice because everyone’s situation is different.

    That sounds like something I would write about. I think at times, rather than give our advice, we could share how we handled a similar situation, with the caveat that it worked for us but might not work for someone else. There is no doubt that everyone has his or her own “dance,” and we should.

    • #10
    • February 6, 2020, at 10:11 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  11. Stad Thatcher

    Rodin (View Comment):
    When one has an obligation to steer someone else clear of a known hazard I think that is different from advice. I refer to that as “direction” even though in professional usage that is called “advice”

    I like this.

    • #11
    • February 6, 2020, at 12:11 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  12. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    Susan Quinn:

    So if you feel compelled to give advice, you might ask yourself whether it’s for your benefit or theirs. But then, you don’t have to take my advice…

    This is a bit like an opinion on giving your opinion. I like it and would probably profit from following this advice a bit more.

    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under the February 2020 Group Writing Theme: “Advice.” Stop by soon, our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #12
    • February 6, 2020, at 5:31 PM PST
    • 1 like