Advice: surprisingly, not everyone wants it.

One lesson I have learned the hard way is never to give advice unless I’m asked directly. Believe it or not, people just do not hunger and thirst to have the benefit of my experience or intelligence. I’m ashamed to admit that it took me a few decades of life to come to that harsh realization.

Do you know how hard it was at first to keep my mouth shut when someone close to me was sharing their problem, dilemma, or challenge? Especially when my kids were confiding in me, it was very difficult to learn to be quiet and listen, all the way, until they are through. And then to still not say anything.

It has gotten easier with practice. But it doesn’t mean I am any less eager to share my tips for life with my people. I just have to wait for the ask. Many times the ask doesn’t come and I have to be content with the role of sounding board, confidant, hugger, and space holder for my dear children, friends, and family.

Every now and then the hoped for question comes: What do you think I should do? Even then, I must tread carefully instead of charging out of the gate with my “wisdom.”

I thought you’d never ask.

Instead, I have to carefuly consider: what does the other person really want from me? Sometimes people just want you to agree with them or support their idea, and that’s OK. It’s hard to figure this out ahead of time, but it helps to know the person well. I try to use past experience and a little bit of MBTI temperament theory if I can.

Very few people ever want to hear the blunt truth about their situation, even after they’ve told you that’s what they want. I’ve blundered into that mistake with a very close friend or two. At the time, I got mad at them because I felt like we had signed up for that kind of friendship but when it came down to it, I found out we hadn’t. Unfortunately, we’ve drifted apart because of our philosophical differences.

I’m not mad at my friends anymore though. I understand that it can hurt deeply to hear someone’s contrary opinion of your situation, and that in theory it seems nice to have the kind of relationship where we can hold each other accountable, but in practice it’s just too scary and painful.

On the flip side, I’m one of the weirdos who wants to be told the truth even if it stings and makes me cry. Even if I retreat for a while into my aloneness to process the information. And that scares people too, especially tribal temperaments like those who use extraverted feeling. I understand and appreciate that.

To everyone who wants to tell me flat out what the deal is, please know that I will value your willingness to share. You can tell me anything as long as you tell me with respect and kindness. I will honor your authenticity and I promise to treat it with respect and honor. Even if I cry a little. Or a lot. I will deeply consider your words of advice, especially if we are close. And if we are close, I will come back and report my findings as authentically as I am able to.

To my children, don’t be afraid to ask me what I would do in your situation. I’ve been through a lot and done a lot of stupid things and I promise I’ll be gentle. It’s not my first rodeo – but if it is, I’ll tell you that too. I won’t expect you to follow my advice. Just let it sink in, add it to the list of ingredients that go into your decision making process. And if you don’t want to hear what I have to say, I promise to be a good listener and hugger.

I am always praying for you and thinking of you.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

3 Replies to “Advice: surprisingly, not everyone wants it.”

  1. Can relate so, so much to this post though I think you’re farther along on your journey than I am. In addition to being an INFJ where I naturally seem to draw people to “confess” to me what’s going on with them, I’m also, sadly, impatient. Sometimes I just blurt out where they can make a change or what I see that needs “fixing” and then want to clamp my hand over my mouth.

    I want to focus on this more. But how do you know when to share what you’re thinking about things and when you’re giving advice? I don’t want to turn into a robot, simply murmuring, “huh, ah, mmmhmmm.” 🙂

  2. I don’t know anything really, but I did spend four years with a great therapist. She would ask me questions like, “how did that make you feel?” or “what do you think that means in your life?”. In that way she was sometimes able to get me to verbalize the very thing she was probably thinking that I needed to realize. At the very least, it is a good way to avoid that robot syndrome and let the other person know you are listening and engaging.

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