22 Mar

Are you asking for my advice?

Then read on. If not, enjoy this.

I have a few rules that govern my life. I usually summarize them as “Be useful, be thoughtful, be passionate, be kind,” but there are any number of more specific lessons I’ve learned that serve me well day-to-day. Here’s one:

Only offer advice if asked.

Here’s why:

You aren’t an expert on someone else, they are. You may have opinions, views, thoughts, or ideas you think are just the right thing to help someone, and I’m sure they could be. Could.

But the thing about advice is that the “right” thing to help someone isn’t the right thing unless it’s right for that particular person at that particular time. Unless you’re their therapist or doctor (and maybe not even then), you cannot — cannot — be an expert in that.

To know you have to ask (“Are you asking for my advice?”), or be asked (“What do you think about…?”). So, ask.

See, timing is everything. If someone isn’t ready to hear something, they won’t, no matter how good your advice might be.

The only way to really know if they’re ready to hear it? When they ask. Not before. Is it possible that you may eventually break through? Of course. But the breaking through will still come as a shift that happens in them, not through the force of your push, nor the frequency of your message.

People change, then they hear.

But, you ask, what if they need to hear what you have to say?

Well, first, that’s your judgment. You’re delivering a “should” in advice’s clothing; you believe your opinion is stronger than their knowledge of themselves — that what you think you know is better than what they actually know – and that’s neither useful, nor kind.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, why do you need to tell them?

Think about that for a minute. Listen to every reason you tell yourself.

How many of those are really about…you? Of course you want to be useful, or helpful — we all do. But if they don’t want to hear it, if they won’t hear it, how useful are you really being? You’re likely wasting your time, and theirs, and adding to the natural defensiveness we all get when confronted with “You should…”

If you really can’t help yourself, the answer is still: ask.

In this case, though, it’s asking someone if the answer you think is right might be right for them (“Have you thought about…?” “What if you…?”"I had luck doing it this way, would that work for you, too?”). Then, at least, you’ve opened a dialogue. You’ve created an opportunity for someone to come to their own realization about what’s right — one based in their knowledge, but informed by yours.

So, what do you think?  Would that work for you?

Image: Han Shot First