With the exception of this blog, I approach giving people advice the same way I’d approach kissing a girl: only when I think it’s welcome and after I’ve verbally asked for permission. Pretty sure the Boss would frown on that analogy, but I’m going with it.
This one is really simple. If someone tells you about a problem, your default should be to listen and sympathize and nothing else. Unless they specifically ask you:
- Don’t judge or give your opinion.
- Don’t offer your solutions.
Seems simple right? Hell no it’s not. It’s super hard.
First off, you ARE going to judge that person or situation. You ARE going to have an opinion. Perhaps a strong one. Do you sympathize with their situation? Do you think they are at fault? Are they ironically upset about something that they regularly do to you? Are they exaggerating or blaming an innocent party?
None of that matters. Whatever you think about those things – keep them to yourself. Nobody asked you. Unless you get paid to give unsolicited critical advice, nobody hired you for that job. Your opinions will almost certainly NOT be appreciated or help the person. If they wanted that help, they would ask.
But you’re sure going to WANT to express your opinion. Your motivation might be because you care about that person and want to help. They are in pain, and you want that pain to go away. Good on you. But they need to want that advice. You can’t force it on someone.
There are other motivations for giving unsolicited advice, none very good. I won’t get into them, but if you spend some time being honest with yourself in the mirror asking “why do I feel the need to tell them what I think or try to fix it”, I guarantee it will be all about you.
Not sure if they want advice? Ask them. “Are you looking for advice?” “Do you want to know my opinion?”. I think you’ll be surprised at how often people will say “no”. And keep in mind, there are more ways to say “no” than just words. You’ll want them to say “yes”. Approach any yes you get with skepticism.