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When I was a kid I recall never asking for advice. I just decided–whether I wanted to go to someone’s house or buy the purple notebook or whatever. But then puberty kicked in and it dawned that this was not how you played in Girlland. To bond with other females it was essential to open up for suggestions on everything from which lip gloss to buy to whether that guy really liked you.

For me this shift did three main things: 1) Gave me a sense of intimacy (sometimes false). 2) Opened me to lots of other options. 3) Trained me not to trust myself. The latter is why plenty of people swear by a strict diet of never giving advice and others never ask for it. Though of course we all know those who dispense it with unsolicited abandon or ask before every tiny move. Seems like with everything, it’s all about balance.

Holly and I were just chatting about this over IM:

 (1:56:42 PM) Holly: I’m a very keep-my-own-counsel-y person, which I often resolve to change but never successfully do. prob. a taurus thing.


(1:56:51 PM) vreissnyc: interesting. i’m very call-six-people-and-ask-their-opinion-y 

 ……

(2:02:24 PM) Holly: …which begs the question of why I don’t reach out more for “what should I do” kinds of advice. partially, i think, because if i don’t take someone’s advice, i feel like i’m letting them down. which is a new layer of emotional ick on top of whatever issue i’m seeking advice on.

(2:03:43 PM) vreissnyc: ah, interesting. because i often think that when people dispense advice well, that ick isn’t there–as in, “i know you’ll do what’s right for you.” but i know what you mean.

(2:05:59 PM) Holly: your point gets back to your original – how to give advice well. like, if you’re going to give it, give it right.

So, how does one give advice right? The good folks at WikiHow give good advice on How to Give Advice–they list crucial things like: Listen, Empathize, Consider Consequences, Brainstorm, Understand They May Not Take Your Advice, etc.

I might add a few more. All of the above, plus:

Advice on Giving Advice

1) Know That You Don’t Know. Anything you say should have that caveat embedded. Because no matter how strongly you feel, you may not be offering something right for that person. Short of “don’t murder,” and a few other fundamentals, you have no idea what path someone is on or what the future will bring. Respect and acknowledge that by saying things like, “But I am not the final word,” “You need to ultimately do what feels right for you,” etc.

2) Avoid Giving Advice. I’ve found that ninety percent of the time a friend asks for advice, they don’t really want advice. They want to be heard and talk through their options. They do not want to be fixed or directed, but rather come to know what they already know. So unless someone nails me repeatedly with “What should I do?” I simply ask questions, offer examples of situations that seem similar, and shut my mouth and listen.

3) Ask Your Ego to Sit Down. For those of us with a slight hero complex nothing makes our capes fly more than being asked for counsel. But it’s important to enjoy and then set aside that “Yay, me, I’m so smart” feeling–or its flip side, “Oh no, they trust me and I got nothin’!” Those can lead to speaking from a smug, superior, or falsley knowing place–getting in the way of truly listening or being able to say “I really don’t know” if you need to. So when someone asks, let your thoughts settle down, get present, and see what happens.

4) Let Go. Understand not only that your advisee may not take your counsel, resist giving the hard sell–especially when you “know” you’re right. The most take-able advice is given like a free-floating gift, no strings attached. If you catch yourself slipping into a tug-of-war of trying to convince the advisee, notice, take a step back and let go. Much of the best advice I’ve ever gotten was not something I embraced at the time. More often I’ve thought, “Yeah, whatever, she just doesn’t understand/know me/know anything” and then only later has it settled into my being. 

5) Affirm Your Faith in The Person. When you’re done saying your peice, it’s really nice to close with something like, “But I trust you to do the right thing. You are so smart and strong and powerful. Just trust yourself–no matter what I or anyone else says.”

As Buddha said, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

Do you give advice? Ask for it?

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