“If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” — Confucius
Who doesn’t like helping others? It feels good that friends or co-workers share their problems with us, right? We feel proud they solved their problems because of our contribution.
We all love giving advice. We have the perfect solution to every problem. Except our own.
That’s the problem with helping others: It can quickly turn into an ego-booster instead of an altruistic act.
Most advice is useless. It pleases the provider more than the receiver. It’s created based on one’s expectations, not on understanding others.
The best advice lies in the eye of the beholder, not yours.
People Want You to Listen, Not to Talk
“Please give me some good advice in your next letter. I promise not to follow it.” — Edna St. Vincent Millay
We all need help to solve our problems. However, that doesn’t mean we are open to listening to external advice.
When someone is having problems, we can’t help but recommend a solution (“I know what you should do”). I fell into that trap many times. I’m now more aware (but not immune) to providing help no one requested.
Don’t spam people with your words of wisdom.
Unsolicited advice doesn’t work. If you are perceived as pushy, the other person will shut off. Your advice will go automatically to the junk box. That your help is free doesn’t mean others will take it.
Getting into someone else’s business is delicate—the moment we start assuming, others feel judged.
When people open the door of their confidence, tread carefully. You could jeopardize their trust by jumping too fast to a conclusion. A friend can feel that you don’t know her that well. Or that the advice you are providing is neither relevant nor genuine.
When people want to talk to you, it's because they want to do the talking. Listen, don’t take over.
Your advice is only useful in one case: when someone asks for it.
Even if one of your friends shares plenty of details about a situation they are facing, that doesn’t mean they are looking for advice. Don’t jump to that conclusion. We are wired to believe that when people open up their hearts, it's because they need our help.
Some folks just want to talk.
For some people, sharing helps to let go of the pain. For others, talking to someone else drives self-reflection. The moment they share their own story out loud, they realize what’s happening.
Listening can be more effective than any advice. If your partner is going through hard times, lending an ear can mean everything for him. Having someone you can lean on is comforting.
Don’t Think or Judge. Just Listen.
“Never miss a good chance to shut up.” ―Will Rogers
Sometimes, the best advice you can give is not providing any at all.
Staying silent is more effective than providing unsolicited advice. It’s switching your role from hero to helper—focus on listening and understanding what’s going through the other person’s mind.
It’s better to be a good listener than to give advice that no one follows.
Practice walking in the other person’s shoes, rather than trying to get them to walk in yours. Empathy is critical to connecting with people so that they don’t get defensive and stop listening.
Advice giving is emotional and intimate. Regardless of whether you are providing feedback on a co-workers’ management style or if a friend is done with her job, it’s more moving than we usually assume. Addressing personal behaviors and emotions can be perceived as you being judgmental.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge said: “Advice is like snow—the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.”
Avoid the “If I were you…” Each person is unique. The same advice given to two different people will trigger different reactions. Don’t assume that others feel or experience life through the same lens that you do.
Your role is not to impose your perspective, but to help people find a solution that works for them.
Listening requires an open mind. You can’t help someone if you are not paying attention.
Practice asking beautiful questions—it helps provide perspective and understanding.
If Someone Asks You for Advice:
Understand expectations. Clarify what they want from you. You don’t need to be overly explicit, but asking, “Sure, what do you need?” can help clarify expectations.
Listen first. Let the other person unload her/his emotions and issues first. Don’t interrupt until they are finished. Take notes to avoid losing focus.
Ask questions. “What’s going on?” or “How do you feel?” are a great start. Keep questions open enough for the person to feel encouraged, not forced, to talk.
Help frame the problem. Before discussing courses of action, the person needs to understand what he/she is going through. Ask, “What would you like to happen?”—this will help you understand what they are trying to solve.
Brainstorm together. Have a conversation rather than a monologue. Let the other person build on your ideas. Or just challenge the solutions you bring to the table.
Provide options, not a solution. “This is what you need to do…” is the most common way where conversations get stuck. Acting from an “Illusory Superiority” disengages other people. Find several options, rather than pushing for the one you like the most.
Analyze potential solutions. Continue the dialogue, but this time to evaluate the pros and cons of the different ideas. Remember, the best solution is the one that works for the other person, not yourself.
Unsolicited advice doesn’t work. Bite your tongue and listen. Ask before you answer. Let others be the smartest person in the room.
But hey, you don’t have to follow my advice either.