Thursday, May 1, 2008

How to advise others

In a word: don’t.

No one wants to hear it. No one is seeking your wisdom. No one believes you can really help them. And if they ask for your opinion? Confirm this: make absolutely certain they really, truly want your opinion. Then, refrain from giving it to them.

Most of the time, people don’t want another opinion. They want a voice, other than the one inside their heads, and they want that outside voice to agree completely with everything they’re saying or doing or thinking.

And I can’t blame them. I’m the same way. When people advise me, of anything, my gut instinct (once I’ve confirmed that they don’t agree with me) is to tune them out until they’ve finished imparting knowledge. What could they possibly know? They’re not me. They’ve never felt what I feel. Besides, they’re wrong, about everything. And so, I blunder on in my mistakes, holding tightly to my own weird thought system that keeps me bound in my current messes.

And we’re all that way. I heard a saying once that went something like this: “People do whatever they want to do for their own good reasons.” Meaning, they won’t do anything for my good reasons—only for theirs. I have to remind myself of that daily.

So, when I see people heading down the sure path of regret—bad decisions made but not yet realized, poor choices not yet played out, foolish investments just before the big crash—I simply bite my tongue. No one would listen anyway. What’s the point of creating all those hard feelings? The people I want to save are not eager for my two cents, and in truth, I’d probably be about as receptive as they are if I were in their boat. Even if they ask for my thoughts, I try to keep said thoughts as bland and meaningless as I can.

It’s taken me nearly 40 years to learn this truth, and I’m still learning it. My big mouth has cost me some friends; it may cost me some more before I really get a strong hold on it. But if I know anything, I know that in addition to having far too many opinions and predictions, I’m a pretty poor liar; if I can’t say what I feel, I’d better not say a word. Besides, if someone’s always asking for another opinion, chances are he’s not too certain about his own. More opinions coming that person’s way can only further confuse him.

One nice lesson learned is that every now and then, I’m completely off base. I clearly recall, a few years back, vehemently advising a gal pal to “dump the guy—he’s a loser.” She didn’t listen to me, thankfully; now, they’re happily married with a sweet little son. I don’t mind being wrong in a case like that. : )

1 comment:

Facie said...

How true that is.

When I was about 20, and I saw the excessive amount of gifts my cousins got at Christmas, I asked my uncle why he bought his kids so much. He said, rather curtly, that when I have kids, I can raise them how I want to, but he was going to do as he saw fit (or something like that).

I felt bad for what I said, and from that point on, I made it a point not to give unsolicited parenting advice. I try to do the same when it comes to relationships. If someone really wants to know what I think and they ask, then I will probably tell. But I have had friends tell me stories, and I just let them talk, even if I think they are doing the wrong thing.