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:
- They clearly didn’t know what was good for them, based on the choices they were making historically.
- I was older and wiser than they were.
- I had better information than they had.
- They weren’t all that smart to begin with.
- 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:
- I like to feel I can help empower others and nudge their minds to problem-solve.
- I have to avoid using the opportunity as a way to boost my own ego about how smart, clever, and powerful I am.
- 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.
- 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