The perils and pitfalls of giving advice

Advising people is hard. The potential to steer someone the wrong way is great. That’s why financial advisors have errors and omissions insurance coverage out the wazoo to make sure they can foot the legal bill when they get sued.

With personal relationships the stakes can be even higher. Have you got that friend who gives advice to you about anything and everything? I did. That person is now gone from my Facebook (our only real point of contact) – though only partially for all the unsolicited advice. Advice comes in a few different forms: solicited and appreciated, solicited and unappreciated (usually when you’re told the opposite of what you want to hear), unsolicited and appreciated, and the absolute worst, unsolicited and unappreciated. The last kind is what I got most often from my former Facebook friend.

Solicited and appreciated is the best kind, because you wanted it and you got advice you could use. It’s probably the kind that happens the least – am I wrong? The second best is unsolicited and appreciated. I feel like this kind is a little like finding a special little surprise gift. In the throes of a conversation, you mention a problem and your friend has a solution you didn’t anticipate getting. Sweet! Problem solved. Maybe I should re-rank this one to the best kind of advice. It’s that nice to get when it’s good.

Solicited and unappreciated advice is an iffy one. Who’s to say that the advice is bad? Maybe it is, but maybe it’s just not what you want to hear. Maybe it’s just the attitude in which the advice is given that rubs you the wrong way. I’ve been in all of these situations. Unsolicited and unappreciated is perhaps the most common, because everyone’s got an opinion. “You should do this”, “you shouldn’t do that”, etc., are practically an hourly occurrence particularly if you’re working. Sometimes you get this advice because someone just doesn’t know your level of experience with a particular activity so they go very basic to ensure you’re fully informed. Sometimes you just encounter a know-it-all.

We’re all advisors whether we realize it or not.

I recently found myself in a situation where I shared some experiences with someone to help them out with a decision they were making. So, not really giving pure advice so much as a bit of guidance. There were bits of advice here and there, but nothing major. In the end, the person considered all of their options and came to a decision that went against a lot of what I had said. I have to admit that I felt a twinge of disappointment, but I came to my senses quickly. It isn’t my life. It isn’t my decision. Sometimes, even with good advice, you have to take a different route. When you work toward reaching a decision, you weigh all the factors and consider any advice you’ve received and try to come to a reasonable solution that takes everything into account. Nevertheless, it can all add up to a very different direction than the one you were trying to take.

Giving advice only works when you’re willing to let go of a personal need for satisfaction in the outcome of the situation. Otherwise, it can do major damage to your pride when people don’t take your advice. Realizing that the decision being made is not about you and not taking it personally can be difficult when you really care about the outcome. It’s admirable to care about friends and relatives that much, but it doesn’t bode well for safe dissemination of advice unless your advice comes with no strings.

I’m usually pretty hesitant to offer advice unless I’m confident in what I have to say. I have very strong opinions, but I recognize that they are only opinions. Others disagree with me on a regular basis and I can live with that. I’ve learned over the years that I CAN let go of my need to see someone do something the way I think is best. I have to be reminded sometimes, but ultimately advising someone should be about helping someone arrive at a decision that is best for them, not on a need for personal validation of being “right”.

Receiving advice gracefully is the easy part – I usually just smile and nod, especially if I disagree. It’s generally not worth quibbling about differences of opinion. Dispensing advice gracefully is by far the harder job. It’s nice when you have a safe environment where advice can be given and received with respect, regardless of the outcome. My BK friends, as well as a few others, give me this comfort zone. I hope you have one, too.

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