Why I’m Giving Up On Giving Advice

laserSome time ago, My wife came home after yet another hectic day at work. As per usual we tried to find a little bit of time before dinner to chat about the happenings of the day. No easy task given we live in a house with three boys. She was in the middle of sharing  a particularly frustrating encounter with a professional organization and I went straight into Advice Mode.

” Have you tried calling the director?” I asked. ” The front line staff at office X are rarely helpful. You know what you should do…”

I stopped. Adriana’s frustration had a new target as evident by the fact she was staring lasers through me.

“Do I look like I want you to fix something?”

Oops. “Right. Sorry. I’ll be quiet now. Carry on.” It was too late. She was no longer in a mood to talk, and rightly so. In my haste to “fix” things I unintentionally left her feeling unheard and unseen.

I have a theory about why I jumped so quickly to giving advice: I was uncomfortable seeing a loved one in distress. The quicker I fixed it, the faster she de-stressed, the sooner I could relax. What becomes apparent (to me, but maybe this doesn’t fit for anyone else) is that my desire to fix it had nothing to do with my partner. It had everything to do making myself feel better. No wonder she was left feeling unheard!

Interestingly, I find the same thing happens when I’m working. Even the patients who say “I’m looking for advice,” aren’t. If I offer suggestions before the patient feels heard, even though it might be the best advice in the world, it will fall on deaf ears. How can a patient trust me when I haven’t even taken the time to listen? I have the best intentions. I want to help. At the same time, it can be uncomfortable to sit with someone else’s distress. The logical conclusion, therefore, fix it so I can feel better.

So now, I do things differently (well, most of the time). Now I keep it simple. Just stay quiet and listen. Then I can ask: how do you feel, and what can I do to support you? The results have been dramatic both personally and professionally.

Besides, I don’t have the answers. How can I? I have a lot of education, and my training has led me to a rather different world view. I have lots of potentially helpful tools I can share with friends, loved ones, and  patients alike. But at the end of the day, the only questions I can truly answer are the ones that I ask of myself. The only good advice I can give is the advice I choose to follow for myself. If sharing what I know to be true for me can help someone else, great.

It is no easy task to stop giving advice. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I’m sure I’ll slip back into old habits from time to time too. But the best advice I can give myself is, stop giving advice. Instead, sit with the discomfort, sit with the feelings, and just be present in the moment and do what needs doing.

How about you?

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