By Portia Turner
As a people, we want to give advice. We want to help our friends and the greater world. Sometimes we do it because we actually care, and other times we do it because we want recognition. Rarely, though, do we stop and think about the fact that we are giving advice before we start talking. So here is a nifty checklist that you should go through before you start trying to fix people.
Does the person you are talking to want advice?
I know that it may seem like what you have to say will fix everything, but sometimes people just need to work through their problems on their own. A good way to know if someone is looking for advice is if you hear them say things such as “What should I do?”, “What would you do?”, or even “Do you have any advice?” Sidenote here: If you misread the signs here and start giving advice to someone who doesn’t actually want it, make sure to listen to the person to whom you are speaking. If they say things such as, “I don’t want advice” or “You don’t actually understand what you are talking about,” by all means, please stop talking. Don’t make the situation worse by continuing to talk. Now you are not only not being helpful, you are probably actually hurting the person you are trying to help.
Do you have all the information?
Advice can be incredibly useless and really frustrating for the person receiving it if the person administering said advice doesn’t actually have all the details. When this is the case, you are probably not in the best place to explain things and help this person. Make sure that in these cases in particular (but really all cases) that you are listening to the person you are talking to and believe them when they say that you don’t understand, which leads me to my next point.
Do you understand and relate to the person you are talking to?
It’s hard to receive advice from someone who has no idea what you are actually going through. Before you say to someone “I completely understand,” please take a moment to think about your situation versus the other person’s situation. Compare, compare, compare. Suffering through something for two years is not the same as dealing with it for six. What may seem like small differences to you can actually make it so that what you have to say isn’t relevant to the situation at all. This point also speaks to something that women deal with a lot: mansplaining. If you are a man giving advice to a woman, know that the situation is most likely something you don’t understand. Your experiences are not the same.
Are you in a place to give this advice?
Are you in your right mind or have you had too much to drink to actually be able to have a useful conversation? Sometimes a little drinking can loosen things up, but too much makes it hard to actually talk and listen properly. Wait until you are in a better place to start having this discussion.
I think that we can all see the common thread that runs through all of these points. LISTENING. Listen to the person you are talking to. Make sure that you aren't discrediting what they have to say. No one understands what they are going through better than they do, so when they say that you don’t get it, guess what? You don’t get it! This is essential! Please, please, please listen to the other person. Otherwise the advice session will just end in yelling and fights, and nobody wants that.
None of this is to say that advice shouldn’t be given. It can be incredibly useful! But please make sure that you think through the conversation and what you have to add before you start talking. The world is a mess, and we don’t have time to deal with stupid miscommunications from misguided advice-giving sessions.