I recently found out that I hate giving advice.
It’s fine when the advice is black and white. “Oh, you’re missing a } over here.” “That error comes up because you didn’t override the virtual function properly.”
It isn’t so great when the advice isn’t as straight-forward.
First off, you’re not really so certain as to how much of an impact your advice will actually have. Did you just tell them something that isn’t absolutely true, and since the asker admires you so much, they take it very much to heart? Because that’s how powerful of an impact you “can” have as a person, and that’s bloody scary.
If you give bad advice you have to potential to change someone’s life, for the good or for the worse, and often time, you have no clue what you did. Couple that with a deep sense of insecurity (see imposter syndrome)and a lot of self-reflection about yourself and a lot of growing up to be done, and you suddenly realize that, “Holy shit I’m looking back and I could’ve said this and that and all of this other stuff, instead of that stupid comment before.” And that’s painful to live with.
On the other hand, it’s so easy to just give and give and give advice without regard to the consequences of your interpretation. When you give advice so freely, you belittle the person by saying you don’t believe they were smart enough to come up with this themselves. You tell them that your advice is the right way because you did something similar and now, you think it’s right. You elevate yourself above them – you become an asshole.
I think the best that you can do as an advice-giver is not to give advice. My responsibility should be to listen, ask questions, and talk about what I have done myself. Let other people draw their own conclusions and make their own decisions from my experiences. Don’t try to warp my unique experiences as solutions to their unique problems.
Obviously, this isn’t new. Apparently it’s called the Gestalt Protocol.
Here’s their list of recommendations:
- Speak from your own experience rather than give advice.
- Use “I” statements not “one” or “you,” but “I.”
- Speak in specifics not generalities. If I were to say, “all men are workaholics” that would be a generality. Instead if I were to say, “my dad and my partner are workaholics” that would be specific.
- Ask “How” not “Why” to prevent defensiveness. If I were to say “Why didn’t you fire your bookkeeper when you found out he was steeling from you?” that maybe attacking. Instead if I were to say, “How did you come to the decision as to whether or not you should fire your bookkeeper,” I wouldn’t evoke any thoughts of attacking.
- Make a statement to declare your position before you ask a question.
- Say, “I feel” to mean real feelings like sad, mad or glad, rather that saying “I feel you are.” Forum is a uniquely personal experience where emotions are as important to the process as the facts. By asking someone how do you feel, we attempt to evoke the emotions in the person that are perpetuated by the situation. Using feel in the right context will allow for deeper presentations.
- Replace “I don’t know” with “I won’t decide” or “I don’t want to say.”
They make so much sense, I’m surprised I haven’t heard of this earlier.
Giving advice is hard. Being an asshole is easy. I believe it would help people if I allowed people to draw their own conclusions from my experiences rather than force my own perspective into their realities. The interpretation of the experience requires just as much skill as acquiring the lesson.