You have your shit together. You know what’s up. You see your friends kind of struggling through life and you wish they’d just take your advice for a change. Every time they come to you and vent, you can’t help yourself and before they’re even finished with their first paragraph, you’re dishing out the goods. Stop. Listen. You don’t need to fix everyone.
As someone who dishes out unsolicited advice for a living, people constantly come to me seeking my opinion. After a countless number of faces, family and friends, I’ve realized something: most of the time people don’t want my actual advice, they just want me to validate their decision.
Yes. People come to me with an idea already in their head, and when I validate it, they feel relief. When I tell them the opposite of what they want to hear, they go do what they were going to do anyway. The latter makes being an advice-giver pretty frustrating. My advice to you? Stop. Stop dishing out advice and start listening. People will only feel like you’re helping them when they feel heard by you, not because you’ve given them a piece of advice they’ve never considered before. Because most people have tossed around every possible option in their head before they seek out another human being to run it by.
How to Listen 101
First, take a moment and revel in the fact that someone has come to you seeking comfort. It doesn’t matter if they only have their cat to talk to; they have gone to several others before you or if they always come to you. The point is, for whatever reason, they trust you enough to share with you. Take a moment to feel good about that. Not only will this give you a little internal boost, but it also prepares you to look at the situation from a more caring perspective.
Calm Your Face
When someone is sharing personal feelings, emotions and experiences with you, the last thing they want is to feel judged. So try to keep your face neutral or in the realm of concerned, and resist dramatic facial expressions. Of course there are times when people will want a major reaction from you, like a gasp or something— resist. Until you find out what this person has already decided they are going to do, you run the risk of backing yourself into a judgmental corner. For example:
“…so then I found out he cheated on me!”
“But I really want to work things out with him…”
Feeding into their need for a reaction early on can turn into a foot in the mouth later. Remaining neutral and simply concerned will eliminate you from having to back peddle.
Bite That Tongue
As I said, this person is not so much coming to you for advice as they are coming to you for validation. Let them tell you their problem and listen. Shut that mouth, open those ears and listen. Do not speak unless you are asking a question to further understand something. Just listen.
It’s so easy to hear someone’s problem and then just go off on an advice bender, because you can see so clearly what needs to happen. More than likely your friend is confused and their vision for what needs to happen is clouded. This is part of why they’re coming to you. You are their sounding board and their mirror for clarity.
Yes, they are going to want you to tell them what they should do. That part is inevitable. Unfortunately, they don’t want your real opinion, they want your validation that what they’re doing is the right thing. There’s a good chance that your thoughts and theirs are one in the same—but that also may not be the case.
“Do you think I should leave him?”
“Should I quit my job?”
“What should I do?”
Do not answer this question— it’s a trap. Trust me, they’ve already thought of the answer to this.
Instead, this is where you open up your mouth and ask, “What do you think you should do?”
Granted there are a whole lot of “I don’t knows” and “I’m not sures” thrown in, they already have a strong idea of which way they are leaning. Let them tell you what sort of validation they are seeking. They may be ready to take the plunge, and that’s awesome. Or they may just want to express their sadness/frustration to you and stay in the same situation. Whatever it may be: listen.
Let Them Be
One of the best things about having friends is that they accept you for you. When your friend has very clearly (or not so clearly) made a decision, you need to support them in that. They have their own path to walk and you have yours. I know it’s frustrating and I’m not the type to sugarcoat either, but it’s not about telling them what they want to hear. It’s about accepting them for where they are.
While you may not agree with their decisions, you can’t decide what’s best for them. You may feel compelled to tell them what you think. You may feel like if you don’t that you’re not being a good friend because you aren’t being honest with them. You can’t think of it that way. Their shoes are far different from your own and while you may feel comfortable walking a certain path—they may not even know where the road is.
A lot of times when we share our no holds barred opinion, we tend to push our friends away. If you tell them they should leave their significant other or quit their job, you might find yourself out in the cold when they don’t. Why? Because they feel like you don’t support them or their decisions and that you’re judging them.
Unless you are extremely worried about your friend’s safety, you need to ease up and let them make their own decisions. Hopefully, they will learn from their mistakes and you will be there to celebrate their victories along the way.
A good friend listens, but a great friend supports.
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