How to give advice

How to give advice

“Advice most needed is least heeded” was a fortune cookie message that I received many years ago. How ironic for a therapist! And yet, pretty good advice. How often have we offered our best advice and had it fall on deaf ears? Countless times, you say? Perhaps a review of good listening skills is in order. Beware new students of this art - others may wonder what happened to the old opinionated you, and they may begin to seek you out!

First, consider your own state of mind. Are you scared, angry, irritated, hungry, tired, rushed for time? (You get the idea.) Center and calm yourself and be focused on this moment, not your own projected fears - will the person who is confiding in you be okay? Am I looking foolish, what if I say the wrong thing? (You will; it’s okay not to get it right all the time.) Be present.

Second, Is this a good time and place for both of us to talk? Will we be overheard by someone who isn’t on the “need to know” list? It is amazing how talkative people can be when riding beside you in a car, or walking side by side, when eye contact is less of an issue. Let’s sit and talk doesn’t work for everyone.

Third, listen attentively. This isn’t a debate, where you listen for ways to disprove the speaker. Reflect back what you heard to clarify and possibly validate the speaker. Hold your comments until the speaker is finished, i.e., don’t interrupt! Easier said than done, when worry or anger get activated.

Fourth, keep your tone and volume conversational. If others tell you to quit yelling, you probably are! Ask if your opinion is wanted and if so, tread lightly.

Finally, keep it short. If you are “writing a book” (i.e.,lecturing) , make it a chapter, paragraph or better yet, a sentence. Accept feedback, which may include rejection of your “much needed” advice. Remember, acceptance is not agreement.

My kindergarten teacher, who had two classrooms a day filled with 35 rambunctious 5-year-olds, summed it up well. We have two ears and one mouth, so….  Happy listening, and maybe advising!