Keep your advice to yourself
“The people sensible enough to give good advice are usually sensible enough to give none.” – Eden Phillpotts
Advice is a slippery slope. The best advice I was ever given was to stop giving advice, and to also stop asking for advice. I still struggle with it at times, I must admit, especially when a friend comes to me with a dilemma and all I want to do is spare her the pain that I once went through in a similar situation. Or when I’m stuck in a bad place (in my mind) and the panic takes over and I just need someone to immediately snap me out of it and tell me what to do.
The main problem with giving advice is that we often don’t know the full extent of the situation. My friend may be withholding information or relaying the story in her own words. Or a well-intentioned person may be trying to offer wise words but you end up wrongfully viewing it as an attack on your personal freedom. Or even worse, you feel you’re being told you’re incompetent.
Of course, there are rare circumstances where one should speak out, should someone’s life be in danger or their health compromised. Or heck, if you’re a doctor and I need medical advice. Or if you’re a lawyer and I need legal advice. But clearly, you know I’m not referring to those times when I say it’s best to keep your mouth shut.
Why you should keep your advice to yourself; and yes, this is advice, before y’all say so (I’m more clever than you think):
- You don’t know the whole story. You only hear the bits and pieces offered to you. You’re not in that person’s shoes, and as good-hearted and wise as you may be, your words could end up destroying something in someone else’s life. A career, a relationship, whatever it may be. Don’t put yourself in an uncomfortable situation.
- They’ll be living with their decision, not you. So what if you’re convinced you know how it’ll all end up? Let it be. If they’re stuck on something, they’re going to do it their way in the end, most probably no matter what you say or do. So let them be themselves and live with the consequences of their decision, whether good or bad. It’s their life, not yours.
- You’re no better. You’ve probably made the same mistakes yourself. And you’re most probably still making them. So spare everyone the holier-than-thou attitude.
“I always pass on good advice. It’s the only thing to do with it. It is never any use to oneself. ” – Oscar Wilde
- Listen. Sometimes all people want is to vent, whine, and let it all out. Be that attentive ear, listen to their story, nod, shake your head, just listen.
- Show compassion dammit. I don’t know what happened to humankind in the last decade, but I’ve noticed that so many people lack compassion these days. They’re so absorbed in their own little world that they don’t realize there’s more out there beyond their front door.
- Make observations, not conclusions. Instead of concluding that the boss is indeed a real jerk, make an observation about his behaviour; clarify certain points. It’ll help your friend see things more clearly in order to come up with his/her own conclusion. It’s a technique often used by therapists and it certainly works wonders.
- Ask your friend how you can help. Maybe they just need a shoulder to cry on; maybe they just need someone to eat a pint of ice cream with without feeling bad; maybe they need someone they can spend an hour simply swearing at the world with. Just ask them what would make them feel better or improve their current situation. If they ask for advice, then sure, go ahead, be my guest. But make sure they’re clearly asking you for advice, and that you’re not imposing it on them uninvited, just so you can feel a little more clever that day.
“Never miss a good chance to shut up.” ― Will Rogers