By Katie Marshall
It is really easy to give advice. From the outside of a situation, you are free of the consequences that could arise from acting in the situation. You can say what the person should do to achieve success or even what you would do, were you in it (though luckily, you are not).
And yet, taking advice is not always easy. Which is weird, because looking at the way we operate, it would appear that taking advice would be one of the easiest thing in the world for us. We love directions. We love to know exactly how to achieve success. It’s been ingrained in us for years through school. For example, what is the first thing you get on the first day of class? A syllabus, explaining exactly what you need to do to do well, or even do average, or very above average through extra credit. We use GPS tools on a regular basis to get from here to there. We gravitate toward online articles and books that give us the exact steps to lose the weight, gain the relationship, to get just where we want to go.
It is remarkably difficult to take advice, or rather, to get someone to take the brilliant advice that we give them.
Psychology explains that we do not like to be told what to do. We prefer to be given options, but not too many options! Just a few options that we can choose to take or not take. This gives us the illusion of control in an uncontrollable world. It also alleviates the anxiety that comes with having to do what someone else recommends we do. Very frequently we hear advice and agree that it is valid or true, then proceed to completely disregard the advice. Sometimes it’s about habits: we already know how we want to act and what we are comfortably with doing. Sometimes it’s about stubbornness. Other times, we just have to learn for ourselves.
But giving advice comes from a good place, doesn’t it? It comes from wanting to help others and maybe even learn with them as they go. It’s a little ego-inflating, sure, to think that your words could be the thing that changes someone else for the better. To give advice and then to see it not taken is energy-draining and occasionally painful. There is very little true joy in saying “I told you so,” especially when you took the time and effort to tell them so in a kind and encouraging way.
There is a compromise between the two: do not give advice. Listen to your friend, support them, and keep your opinion about how to best succeed to yourself.
If this is too difficult, I understand. You’re most likely going to give advice whenever you can because we all do. As such, if you are going to disregard my advice about giving advice (which is to not give it), instead of draining your energy on long soliloquies that no one follows, instead, share your wisdom by following these three rules to give the best advice possible:
1. Only give advice if you are asked.
Remember how we prefer options over being told what to do? Either wait for the person to seek your counsel or ask them straight up, “Would it be helpful if I gave you my advice?”
2. Only give advice if you are almost certain you are right.
I do not think we can be absolutely, 100% certain of anything in life. However, to share advice, do so with legitimate confidence that what you are saying is true and factual. If you do not know that something is valid or fact-based, leave it out of your advice.
3. Only give advice if you do not think the person can get there on their own.
Advice-giving situations can feel a lot like re-watching a movie: you have experienced something similar, which feels like you already know how it is going to end, so you want to warn the hero to not go in the cave or to stop the damaging behavior. However, instead of giving away unnecessary spoiler alerts to someone who maybe just needs to experience it on their own, instead ask yourself, “Can this person figure it out on their own?” If so, tell them that you believe in them and support them and let them figure it out. If you have a piece of information that they may not be aware of, share it. But only if that person could not know what you know without you telling them.
Now go forth, and give the best advice possible – or none at all.