“If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” — Confucius
If you are like me (and most people), you probably love helping others. It feels great to lend a hand to a friend or co-worker. And feeling proud they solved their problems because of our contribution.
We all love giving advice. We have the perfect solution to every problem except our own.
That’s the problem with helping others; it can quickly turn into an ego-booster instead of an altruistic act.
Most advice is useless.It pleases the provider more than the receiver. It’s created based on one’s expectations, not on understanding others.
The best advice lies in the eye of the beholder, not yours.
People Want You to Listen, Not to Talk
“Don’t ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.” ― Robert Frost
Everyone needs help to solve their problems. But that doesn’t mean they are open to listening or, even willing to, follow what you recommend.
I know, it’s tempting. When someone has a problem, we feel the need to chime in. The other person becomes a victim we want to rescue. “You should do X” or“Have you tried this?” — We immediately suggest. We all fall into that trap. I have to remind myself continually: unsolicited advice doesn’t work.
Don’t spam people with your words of wisdom.
Keep this in mind when you are the one looking for advice. Offering something that people did not request is pushy. Your advice will go automatically to the junk box. That your help is free doesn’t mean others will pay attention.
Getting into someone else’s business is delicate — the moment we start assuming, people feel judged.
When people open the door of their confidence, tread carefully. You could jeopardize the trust that person has on you. If you jump too fast into a conclusion, a friend can feel that you don’t know her that well. Or that the advice you are providing is neither relevant to her nor genuine.
In most cases, when people say they want to talk to you is because they want to do the talking. Your role is to listen, not to take over.
Your advice only works in one case: when someone asks for it.
Even if one of your friends shares plenty of details about a situation they are facing that doesn’t mean they want any advice from you. Don’t jump into that conclusion. We are wired to believe that, when people open up their hearts, is because they need our help.
Some folks just want to talk.
Sharing helps some people let go of the pain. For others, talking facilitates self-reflection. Conversations help understand what’s really going on.
Listening can be more effective than any advice. Having someone you can lean on is comforting. If your partner is going through hard times, lending an ear can mean everything for her/him.
If a colleague just expects you to be a sounding board, be okay with it.
No One Cares About Your Advice
“If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” — Confucius
People don’t care about your advice. Or mine either.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your advice is wisdom. You can share your experiences or knowledge, but you can’t impart wisdom — it’s an internal experience.
By trying to be smart, we can create more damage.
No one wants to be reminded of our weaknesses — especially during harsh times. When you behave like a know-it-all, you make others feel more miserable.
Knowledge blindness makes us feel overconfident until others prove us wrong.
It happens to me. Most consultants and motivational writers suffer from “illusory superiority” too. This belief — that we are smarter than we actually are — is a common cognitive bias called the “Dunning–Kruger effect.”
I see this a lot when coaching teams — managers want to be the hero. They act like if they have all the answers. Even if they have good intentions, they hurt rather than help their teams. Great managers lead with questions, not perfect answers.
J.R.R. Tolkien said, “Advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.”
People don’t need a superhero when they are suffering. Vulnerability always pays off — empathy is your best superpower. There’s a thin line between trying to help and having all the answers. We should purposefully avoid crossing it — especially when writing about giving advice 🙂
Don’t Think or Judge, just Listen
“Never miss a good chance to shut up.” ― Will Rogers
Sometimes, the best advice you can give is NOT providing any at all.
Staying silent is more effective than providing unsolicited advice. Be a helper, not a hero. Focus on listening and understanding what’s going through the other person’s mind.
It’s better to be a good listener than giving advice no one will follow.
The best advice is being empathetic to the person that needs help. Practice walking in the other person’s shoes, rather than expecting others to walk in yours.
Advice giving is like walking on eggshells. Regardless if your coworker is unhappy with her job or your best friend is going through a breakup — you take sides when you give advice. People can think you are judgmental.
Empathy is critical — when people get defensive, they stop listening.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, “Advice is like snow — the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.”
Avoid the “If I were you, I would…” You are not them. Empathy doesn’t mean you know how people would behave, but understanding their emotions. One situation can trigger multiple reactions — don’t assume others see life through your same lens.
Your role is not to impose your perspective, but to help people find a solution that works for them. Questions provoke reflection and understanding — learn to ask beautiful questions, as I wrote here.
Listening requires an open mind. Even if you are staying silent, you can’t help someone if, deep inside your mind, you are judging their emotions or behaviors.
What if They Ask for Advice?
“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.”
— Jimi Hendrix
1. Clarify expectations:
When someone asks for your help or says that want to talk to you, clarify what they expect from you. You don’t need to be overly explicit but asking “sure, what do YOU need?” will help you realize clear expectations.
2. Listen first:
Silence your advice. Don’t ask questions yet. Even if you don’t understand some details of the story. Let the other person unload their emotions and issues first. You can take notes or write down questions, so you don’t get distracted.
3. Help with questions:
Providing clarity is the best advice. “What’s going on?” or “How do you feel?” are great ways to start. Open questions invite participation — there’s no right or wrong answer.
4. Reframe the problem:
Before discussing a course of action, the person must understand what he/she is going through. Most people can’t find a solution because they can’t separate details from the real problem. “What would you like to happen?” — This question drives focus. Any advice should enable the transformation the other person expects.
5. Brainstorm together:
Have a conversation rather than a monologue. I tend to brainstorm too fast so; when I’m talking too much, I call myself out. It’s a great reminder to the other person that you want to have a dialogue. Let the other person build on your ideas and provide new ones. Invite them to challenge your solutions.
6. Provide options, not one solution:
“This is what you need to do…” is how conversations get stuck. Acting from an “Illusory Superiority” disengages other people. Find several options rather than pushing for the one you like the most. Then, encourage the other person to evaluate the pros and cons. Remember, solutions should be evaluated through the eyes of the other person, not yours.
7. Avoid the trap of “If I were you.”
Problems are personal; the same applies to find the right solution. It’s not you who are facing the problem. Even if they ask you what you would do, push back. Help your colleague keep in mind that she’s the one with the problem, not you. She needs to own her decisions.
Putting It All Together
People want to talk to you, not to listen to your advice. Don’t assume they are looking for you to say something. Bite your tongue. Unsolicited advice doesn’t work.
The best advice comes in the form of questions and listening — to pay attention is your best help. Listen to others. Ask questions. Help people find the solution that will work for them.
No one pays attention to your advice, but everyone will appreciate your full attention.
What about you? How do you deal with unsolicited advice?
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