DP Challenge – What’s the best piece of advice you ever gave someone else and didn’t take yourself?

I see the DP challenges all the time, like the rest of us Word Press junkies who are always checking our stats and trawling around the blog world – this one I couldn’t pass up.

I used to throw a statement out to my students when I taught undergrad courses in helping skills and communication – giving advice is an act of arrogance.

Students would invariably have a strong reaction to this statement – that was the point, and to be fair it is overstated in its absoluteness. But I was trying to get a discussion going and challenge the idea that helping – be it in a professional capacity or with friends and family – is about telling other people what they should be doing. Let’s be honest here – that is what advice usually amounts to.

I feel so strongly about this that it has crept into my novel. Here is a small excerpt from Disappearing in Plain Sight

Liam didn’t want to give Lisa-Marie advice. He believed most people roll out the advice-giving wagon without thinking about what they’re doing. It’s arrogant to imagine you can ever know what someone else should do. He had no idea if Lisa-Marie should take her shot with Justin. His twisting gut told him it was a mistake . . . . On the other hand, Liam’s gut was always twisting and he didn’t know for sure what other people felt or wanted.

There, in a nutshell, is my opinion on advice giving. We seldom know enough about another person’s situation to weigh-in with a – you should do this – type of statement. We think we do, but we don’t and therein rests the arrogance. The other person will be the one to live with the consequences of taking our advice – do we want that on our conscience? It’s far more productive to be a good listener and allow people to explore their own situation and feelings and come to their own decisions.

I often faced very heart-felt comments from students on how giving advice was what their whole idea of helping rested on – they had always been the one in their family and in their various relationships to tell others what they should do – people actually valued them for playing this role.

I would set up an exercise where students would sit with a partner and listen to this person speak for three uninterrupted minutes. Going into this exercise, most students felt it would be easy – after all it was a course on helping skills and improving communication and many students took the course because they were considering future work in a helping field. And after all – what is three minutes?

After the time was up, we would discuss how the listeners managed. Invariably they shared that they found it extremely difficult to just listen and not interject with advice or share their own experiences of a similar situation. They often said the three minutes seemed like forever.

Try this exercise yourself – most people will find it very difficult to listen to another person talk for three minutes. (I’m not saying stone faced listening here – active listening – giving the other person non-verbal positive feedback to keep them talking.)

OK – conclusion – what’s the best piece of advice I gave to others and didn’t take myself? Simple answer – don’t give advice! I’ve broken that advice so often I can’t even count the times. And I know better! There you go – true confession. My most notorious advice-giving has been with my grown children. And I’ll tell you this for free – giving unsolicited advice to your own kids is quite unproductive.

Oh what fools we mortals be . . .  and all of that.

My advice – try listening instead of telling other people what they should do. Oh, oh – there I go again, giving advice.