Some Advice... on Advice

Here's my advice: Unless someone explicitly asks for your advice, do not offer advice. Maybe not even then.

When I tell someone about a problem I'm having, that is not equivalent to asking for advice. I am communicating to be heard and understood. I do not want or need someone else to solve my problems, unless I specifically ask for that. Even if I lay out a problem and ask, "What should I do?" How do you know what I should do? Are you a doctor? A psychiatrist? A God? Thee God? A professional in a field related to the problem? If yes, by all means, feel free to bequeath your advice. No? How about turn it back to me and ask questions that will help me discover the answer myself.

Really, do you want to be on the hook when your advice is taken and the result is terrible? Do you want credit when the result is awesome? Do you want to be in the business of controlling the puppet strings of other people's lives? Are you really, "just trying to help"? Do you think it is helpful to aid someone in avoiding making their own decisions or taking responsibility for their own life?

If all else fails, try empathy. What do you want from others when you share a problem? Do you want to be heard, understood, reminded that you're not alone, and then figure out your own path? Or do you want others to steer your life for you while you grow increasingly disempowered and helpless?

No pressure. I'll wait right here.

I realize a lot of people do relate problems with the expectation that they'll be given free advice, but I would be ever so grateful if we could all lose that expectation. 

Nobody ever knows your life better than you do. Nobody ever knows what fresh hell it is to be you every day, what you personally struggle against or yearn for, and there really isn't enough time, to go over all of the possible scenarios. Life's too short.

When I tell somebody about something and it even remotely sounds like I'm conveying a conflict or a question I'm trying to answer or a sense of unsureness about a direction to take, if they come back with, "Well maybe you could..." or "Have you tried..." or, amazingly, "I think you should..."OH. My god. I just stop them right there and point out, "There are not enough hours in a day to go over all of the possibilities that you could offer because your imagination isn't even constrained by what I already know about my self and my life, so there's no avenue that you will discover that I don't already know about. I have no interest in walking down an endless road volleying back, "Well, that won't work because..." or "Right, yeah, maybe I'll try that..." or "Sure, I guess that's possible... (if I wasn't dealing with 20 other issues that prevent me from taking that route and are so embarrassing I haven't mentioned them so you'll never understand why it's not an option for me)" to your suggestions for how to manage my life.

Maybe you're a problem-solver at work or for your kids or family and so it's hard for you to know how to turn it off. I even do it too sometimes, and when I catch myself, I like to point out what I've done, even though people sometimes don't take offense or it doesn't occur to them immediately that what I've just done is conveyed to them that I think I know better than them what options are worth pursuing in their life. Here, I'll do it... just let me... I'll do it myself! There, now your problem is fixed. I helped! I'm a helper. I fix other people's lives and problems and it makes me feel valuable and valid and props up my self-esteem.

Truly the greatest gift someone can give me when I tell them about a problem I'm dealing with is to listen and convey to me that they understand how much it is affecting me, that they understand what I'm saying, and then wait patiently for me to consider how I might solve the problem and then hope that I do just that.

If I want someone's advice, I will ask with respect and humility, I'd like to hear your perspective on an issue I'm dealing with, I'm open to hearing your advice if you're open to offering it. It's an honoring, it's a measure of respect to someone to say, 'I am interested in your feedback'. It is the opposite to go around offering your advice and perspective when people are not asking for it.

Self-sufficiency builds upon itself. It is less prone to blame, guilt, resentment, and other emotional gremlins.

Sometimes we need to ask for help, and we shouldn't feel embarrassed to do so. And, it feels great to be able to help others. We should help those who ask for it when we can. But, offering advice that someone didn't ask for is not helping. It is not listening, it is hearing then turning it into your own problem. It is taking, not giving.