We’ve all been there before, both on the receiving and giving end and at the end of the day nothing has really changed. The easier said than done approach to life’s woes that is, giving and receiving advice. Let’s get practical with an example. Think about a time where a friend has come to you after an emotional break up, you do your best to pacify and console them and offer some generic advice you heard from a movie about what to do and finish the ritual with an ‘it will be ok’. At the end of that saga you feel good about yourself because you accomplished a selfless act by helping out a friend, however after a few days pass, you meet up with the same friend only to find out that they’ve done exactly the opposite of what you told them to do! That my friends is what we term ‘Askholes’, where someone comes to ask you for advice, you give them solid, logical and fool proof advice (that’s what you think) and they do exactly the opposite of what you told them. Isn’t life just one massive paradox in motion at times?
What's really happening?
You done everything you could in your power to help your friend, it all seemed flawless right? Wrong! You’ve got to understand that when people are in a state of flux and their world has gone completely and utterly topsy-turvy they are completely irrational. They’ve simply reverted to their animal instincts to survive regardless of any logical rationale.
Think about it for a moment, we all know what is right for us in most situations (most of the time) however most of us simply don’t follow our logical minds. Instead our emotional cortex or 'amygdala' takes the driver seat in an attempt to take us back to equilibrium, in other words, we rely on our basic instincts to survive the turbulent and find comfort within the storm.
In the case of our heart broken friend, their emotions drove them back to what was deemed safe and our usual equilibrium in attempt to overcome the uncertainty they were experiencing. Of course, the logical brain knows that going back to the destructive relationship will only serve to exacerbate matters, however, the emotional brain does not react logically instead it pushes us towards situations that restores the balance (equilibrium). Why else would our friend go running back into the hands of the one that hurt them in the first place? Of course there are other reactions that people may take however they are usually irrational and at times borderline psychotic such as in the case of obsession or revenge.
Without getting in too deep as to why act out of emotion rather than logic (especially during challenging times) let’s assume that emotions is the greater motivational force that fuels our actions.
“Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t”
- Erica Jong
What They Really Want
Look at it this way if you were heart broken and distraught and you sought out your closest friend to confide your deepest issues with what would you want from them?
I know what I would want, someone to just listen to me and make me feel understood, that’s all! We all know deep down inside all the answers to our questions we seek however due to our fears we refuse to accept them as truths, instead we seek out others to tell us what we already know and for them to take ownership for the fears and insecurities that brood inside ourselves.
When we are in these kind of negative situations, whether it’s a bad break up, getting fired, or having a fight with their best friend we are all looking for one thing and that is to return to equilibrium (or better). They want things to be normal again, they want peace and happiness in life and most importantly they want to rid themselves of that gaping black hole feeling that drains us of our energy and destroys the very fabric of our lives. That’s all that we want when we are experiencing uncertainty, pain, despair, sadness etc.
We might think we need advice but we should be aware that most of us are driven by emotions, offering ‘logical’ advice is like speaking to a Chinese person in Swahili, the words just don’t process through!
The Right Way
As aforementioned, giving advice is quite a redundant process, it might boost your ego by sounding all high and mighty by being composed, firm and confident compared to your friend in need but remember that you are not clouded by the same emotions that someone going through a break up is.
Remember you are there to serve your friend by making them feel understood.
Here is a very quick guide to just doing that:
Simple yet powerful way of making the other person feel heard, however it doesn’t just mean just sitting there doing nothing, it involves whole-heartedly listening, giving your full attention to the other person, periodically nodding and interjecting words that show you understand and care.
Anytime you feel the urge to give advice, swallow it! That’s just ego trying to stick its ugly head out and make an appearance but in the end it doesn’t accomplish much.
Your primary objective is to bring them to a place of equilibrium by listening and letting them let out their frustrations, fears, sadness, whatever emotion they need to vent to restore their internal balance.
By engaging in active and passive listening (without being distracted by your phone’s social notifications – turn those off!) you can really gain an understanding of what’s really going on. As human beings we have tendencies or biases that result from our relationships and this can skew our perspective on the issues at hand.
I believe the best relationships are the ones that serve each other to grow into better versions of ourselves. Telling your friend what they want to hear doesn’t necessarily serve them, it might keep the peace but at the end of the day you are just like a ‘Yes man’ and the person doesn’t grow by hearing what they need to hear.
Having said that, know that if you really want to help your friend, don’t just mindlessly give out generic advice based on lack of understanding, give them what they really need to hear even if it might hurt your friendship. I know what some of you are thinking, that it’s hard or cold to dish out truths especially when someone is hurting. This is where tact and understanding comes in, if you offer ‘insight’ that no one else can give (based on understanding them as individuals and the situation at hand), use tact and come from a place of love then there is a very high chance that person would be happy to accept it without resistance or negativity.
"It’s only when the heart feels heard that the mind will follow"
Given enough time listening and understanding, the underlying issue will manifest. Your job is not to solve it for them but help them understand and support them. It’s like doing someone’s assignment for them, they get the job done but at the end of the day the person doesn’t learn or better themselves in the long run.
Don’t worry too much about trying to find the underlying issue, it will come in time. What is important is creating that bond of understanding, trust and support between you and the other person. Even if they never solve the underlying issue, the very fact that you are there for them will help them feel better about themselves and in time they will become stronger than before.
So next time someone comes to you for advice, just remember that it’s not about giving logical advice to a highly emotionally strung person, it’s about listening and understanding to make the other person feel heard. Consequently it’s about creating a stronger between you two that allows you to lead and support them to solve their internal underlying issues so that they become a greater version of themselves. This will undoubtedly serve the other person whilst making you a truly awesome friend and person to turn to for insight~
Insight Vs. Advice
Let me emphasise a vital distinction here. Advice belongs in the logical realm; it is a set of instructions to alleviate a situation, on the other side of the coin is Insight which belongs in the realm of emotions. Insight is like diving deep into a person’s soul and searching for the underlying issue rather than simply putting a band aid over it. Insight is like shining light on the cause of pain deep down beyond the facades we wear, where it becomes clearer to see what is truly going on and hence repairable. It might be more challenging to fix however at least we know what to fix.
Here are some other additional ideas to remember next time you give advice:
An empathetic mind-set will do wonders: Try to really understand what the other person is feeling and thinking, as soon as you can do that you can give more tailored insight into the issue
Honest is the best policy: People are very adept at picking up lies so if you are just saying things to make the other person feel better it might backfire by making you seem less credible. If you don’t know the answer don’t sweat it, a lot of the time it’s more about creating a foundation of support for them than finding solutions.
Have patience: You can’t expect to offer some insight and everything will be solved, human beings are creatures of habit. What this means is that it will require a lot of time to reinforce behaviors that will lead the other person to where they need to be. You will probably encounter some resistance however be patient, persistent and remember your goal of serving the other person. They will be forever grateful for your patience and your persistence.
No expectations: Expectations are a great way to stress out the relationship whilst it may seem idealistic it creates unwanted stress. Act in a way that is selfless and have no expectations of return and that will create a level of respect for you that is invaluable.
Well there you have it, next time someone comes to you for advice just remember that most likely they will be in an emotional state and any logical advice will just go in one ear and out the other. Focus on making them feel heard and understood, if you don't actually solve their problems at least you created a strong connection with them and sometimes that is even more powerful than giving advice in the first place~