When friends and family ask for advice, it can get complicated. It can be fraught — sometimes we know too much and it can be difficult to remain objective.
Also, if we don’t get it right, we can hurt someone we love.
It works that way for a lot of us. Helping a stranger can be easier than advising someone we’ve known forever.
Here are some best practices. Turns out, good advice is often about loosening the body, opening the mind and, more often than not, keeping your mouth shut.
1. Body language matters.
You should stay open if you can. Face someone without barriers. Keeps your hands free (not multitasking with a phone). Keeps your face neutral and try to avoid looks of shock or judgement.
If you look like you’re tense or you’re distracted, the person might not open up to you as much as you would want them to.
2. You don’t have to fix the problem.
Giving advice isn’t the same as giving someone an order.
People who ask “What should I do?” often want to process a problem themselves. You’re giving good advice if you can help them get there on their own.
A lot of it is to unload things that they have going on inside. You are creating a space where they can self express freely.
Part of the trick with this is remembering that it’s not about you. A friend’s priorities might not match your own, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Don’t assume their choices are any kind of statement about your own values and decisions.
Empathy is a necessity and holding back your ego, where anything that’s feeding your feeling gets put to the side.
Easy, right? Just remember that listening goes a long way.
3. Know when the questions are more than you can handle.
Know when to refer out. Counseling can be wonderful, and there’s no shame in asking for it when bad feelings persist.
I recommend seeking help from a professional when someone seeking advice can’t get to a solution on their own.
4. Pay attention to patterns.
The thing with giving advice is that when we’re doing it for people we love, we might hear the same problem over and over again. When you’ve known someone for years, you’re a witness to their patterns and repeated mistakes.
There’s a way to be thoughtful about this cycle. Instead of saying, “Ugh, you’ve said this 15,000 times,” you might ask a friend how their new experiences relate to their old ones.
You might say something like, ‘You know, this kind of reminds me a bit of that time when … ‘.
You can also ask questions. “What do you think that means?” or “What has worked for you before?” can be a good ones when you’re trying to get someone to consider their own cycle.
5. Sometimes you can’t give advice right now.
It helps that you give advice when you’re in the right space to do it.
Texts and FaceTime might be immediate, but your advice doesn’t have to be. You can politely explain to someone that you want to give them your full attention when you’re ready.
Sometimes when you try to force yourself to be there for someone that you just can’t be there for in the moment, you can do more harm than good.
6. You can be a great sounding board without having lived it.
We’re bound to hear about problems we haven’t experienced firsthand. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be helpful. That’s why advice is all about listening, really.
If we go into it knowing we don’t have answers, if we behave like sounding boards, we can be thoughtful for just about anyone. Giving advice should feel like a conversation. That’s when it works best — when you find yourself saying, “Tell me more.”
There are no points to be won. You’re both just human beings sort of collaborating on the project of being a person and seeing it that way for all its messiness.