Why Advice Hurts Others

Unsolicited advice implicitly says, “I’m offering you a solution because you’re incapable of coming up with a good one on your own.”

 

Yes, it’s very difficult to watch loved ones make a mistake.  Often, we rush in with both guns blazing, trying to save a person from what we perceive as an error in judgment.  It’s especially difficult for those of us who have a long history of advice giving.  It seems like there is an unstated moral imperative that we use the wisdom we’ve learned from our own mistakes to save others from their mistakes.

 

And that’s a problem.  When we offer others unsolicited advice, we are not only implying they are incapable of making good decisions for themselves but also depriving them of an opportunity for personal growth. The hidden power of mistakes is that they are the very ore from which wisdom is produced.  It is the alchemy of turning the base metals of error into something precious—and lasting.

 

Before offering unsolicited advice, we may want to ask ourselves, “Would I really want to deprive another of what created my own wisdom?  And can I really be confident that what I believe is right is also right for another person?”

 

Consider this as well.  When we offer unsolicited advice, two things may result: shame and blame.  People may feel shame because unsolicited advice is inherently saying that the other person’s decision making skills are poor.   Also, unsolicited advice can harm a relationship because when someone takes your advice and things turn out badly, who are they going to blame?

 

For those of us who are ambivalent about unsolicited advice, we often rationalize our decision to give it by combining it with one of our “pearls of wisdom.” However, wisdom is contextual and, therefore, subjective because it is based on our own limited interactions with life.  Even though wisdom feels like ultimate truth, it really conforms to a formula: my knowledge + my experience = my wisdom.  Not anyone else’s. 

 

So what’s the alternative?  After all, we want to help those we care about.

 

Spiritual author and self-help guru Byron Katie says that whenever she is asked for advice, she responds: “I have no idea what you should do.  I can only share what worked for me.  Are you interested in hearing that?”

 

The honesty and humility inherent in Katie’s response invites others to consider our experience as a possible solution without the pitfalls of unsolicited advice.

 

Another useful technique in avoiding unsolicited advice comes from my own work with the ManKind Project, an international group of men committed to developing greater emotional intelligence (EQ).  I have learned that when someone has given me the honor of listening to his or her issue, I briefly pause to ask, “Do you want me to just listen or to listen and help you come up with solutions?”

 

As a former “advice provider,” I have been seduced by my desire to solve other people’s problems.  It’s easy to assume that when sharing a difficult issue with us, people want our advice.  Men are especially prone to the temptation to immediately fix the person or situation.  Although we have heard women say from the advent of language that they “just want to be listened to,” we find it extremely difficult to avoid jumping in to solve the problem.

 

As an enlightened male, Buddhist monk and Nobel Prize nominee Thich Nhat Hanh, says that we listen to others with compassion rather than judgment in order to relieve another’s suffering. We listen with only one purpose: to allow that person to “empty his heart.”  And we remember that we “are helping that person to suffer less even if what he is saying is full of misperceptions or bitterness.”

 

Then what about the misperceptions?  He suggests that we set aside another time to address those—if, in fact, that is what the person is seeking from us.

 

There is also great wisdom to be found on the advice frontier from support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon.  Members are taught to share their “experience, strength, and hope” rather than their advice when working with others who are still suffering. Addiction to our own negative thinking has a way of making us all members of the “still suffering” whether we consider ourselves addicts or not. Key to their approach is valuing and respecting other people, recognizing that “we are all equals, but we are not the same” (Al-Anon’s Twelves Steps & Twelve Tradition).

 

When operating from the belief that others are equal but not the same as us, we are less likely to impose our advice on them.

 

But habits are often difficult to break.  And advice giving is no different.  To prevent us from slipping back into automatic advice mode, Katie suggests asking ourselves three-questions: “Am I in their business? Did they ask me for my advice? And, more importantly, can I take the advice I am offering and apply it to my life?”

 

A motif common to all the advice-busting techniques presented here is time.  When feeling the urge to give unsolicited advice, pause and take a moment to consider its pitfalls. That momentary “time out” is all you need to apply the technique that will help bring about the greatest good for each person —friend, family, or colleague—who has honored you by confiding in you.

 

In sharing this blog with you, I hope I haven’t violated my own intentions.  It seems that it’s an inescapable irony that in writing about unsolicited advice that I have given it.  But it is my hope that by joining me in this article, that you have implicitly given me permission to share these insights and techniques regarding uninvited advice.  You may find that as you become more sensitive and skillful in helping those who have confided in you, that they may return the favor.

 

Kind Regards,

RJ Handley

 

 

 

 

Some Lessons Ain’t Easy

I’ve had a tough few days with my mirrors.  I’m not liking what I see in them.  It’s not because I’m hung up on the effects of aging.  It’s because the mirrors are showing me what I am projecting on other people.  And that has caused me to stand back and see myself for who I really am.

 

Projection, in psychological terms, is a defense mechanism people unconsciously employ in order to avoid difficult feelings or emotions. It involves projecting undesirable feelings or emotions onto someone else, rather than dealing with the unwanted feelings ourselves.

 

One of the benefits of relationships is that they serve as mirrors that allow us to see these projections.  Two traits are inherent to projections: that we are frequently unaware of our own projections and that all of us employ them.

 

Because projections come from the subconscious mind, they literally blindside us.  And that was the case for me this week.   I saw myself mirrored back.

 

I was out at a major home improvement store with my girlfriend.  She is very aware of the problem I have with a person close to me who is continually embroiled in conflict.  It’s kind of like crack to him.  As my girlfriend and I walked up aisle after aisle looking for staples for my staple gun, I became more and more frustrated with not being able to find a clerk to help with our search.  Nearly a half-hour went by, and my frustration turned to anger.  So I approached the manager and vented at him.

 

Though my girlfriend was standing in line, she could overhear me talking with the manager.   When we got out to the parking lot, she told me how uncomfortable my anger made her feel.

 

Of course, like many of us, I began rationalizing my behavior, saying that I never attacked the character of the manager and that managers need to hear from customers about stores issues so they keep their customers and…

 

Well, she wasn’t buying it.  In fact, she turned it around on me saying that I was doing the very thing that I found objectionable in my close friend.   Ouch!

 

Talk about being T-boned at the intersection of Unawareness and Projection Avenue.  I had been motoring through the morning on my defense mechanisms:  first projection, then rationalization.

 

As a life coach, these kinds of realizations strike me as especially painful because I feel I should be beyond them.  After all, I’m very aware of the concept of projection.  But the truth is that I am often unaware of my own projections.  Knowledge is not necessarily awareness.

 

And that is why relationships are the most powerful driving force to self-awareness.  They help us to see our projections reflected back to us.  What we don’t like about ourselves, we project onto other people.  It’s little wonder we see some people as our enemies.

 

Relationship expert Guy Finley says that people we perceive as enemies are like angels in disguise.   They are in our lives as mirrors that show us the things we need to change in ourselves.  When we notice the behaviors of these difficult people, and they upset us, we are reacting to things in ourselves that we don’t like.   His practice when dealing with this issue in his own life is gratitude.  Silently, he says to the imagined enemy, “Thank you. I didn’t realize that about myself.”

 

I remember from my early days in AA an old-timer who would say time and again, “If you spot it, you got it.”  It took me ten years to realize the truth of that.

 

God is the master teacher.  Experiences, even the so-called negative ones, are lessons.  When the cast of characters changes in our lives, but that same troubling issue keeps resurfacing, it is clear that it is not the other person but ourselves that is the source of our suffering.  God, however, is keenly aware what lessons are crucial for our development, and he will not let us move on from the lesson until we have mastered it.

 

Though these lessons ain’t easy, they are the ones that hold the greatest potential for our personal growth. My home improvement experience turned out to be a self-improvement experience.

 

May I, and may all of us, have the humility and the courage to honestly see ourselves in the mirror of other people.  It is in those moments that we have the greatest opportunity for change.  When that happens, we will begin to truly admire the person we see in our mirrors.

 

 

 

Recovery Step 13

rjhandley.com

As you know from My Story, I owe my life to AA.  Its fellowship was like a loving hand that lifted me out of the deep trench I had dug with my blackout drinking.  Because of AA, I now have 10 years of sobriety.

To me, the Big Book is an inspired masterpiece.  Yet, Bill W. never intended it to be the last word on spirituality and personal growth.  Nearly two decades after the publication of the Big Book, Bill W. wrote the letter “Emotional Sobriety,” published in the AA Grapevine.  In it he says, “Since AA began, I’ve taken immense wallops…because of my failure to grow up emotionally and spiritually.” It’s clear that Bill W. realized that the Big Book did not hold all the answers to overcoming our malady.

As with the tornado metaphor in the Big Book, Bill W. understood we can never clean up the ravages of our character defects if we remain unaware of the psychological issues that continue to wreak havoc in our relationship with ourselves, with others, and with God—even after working the 12 Steps.  He foresaw the need for a spiritual psychology to carry us beyond the “spiritual awakening” mentioned in the 12th Step. In response, we now have writers like Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, and Ram Dass whose words are like an inspired friend walking beside us, informing us of the empowerment of self-discovery.

The Big Book awakened us from the big sleep of our addiction.  Now, in recovery and attuned to consciousness, we continue on the path of spiritual and personal growth.  In my journey down my own path, I have read widely from the works of spiritual sages.  With their encouraging presence, I have turned to face my own dysfunctional thoughts and behavior patterns that created seeming insurmountable obstacles to my own happiness and potential.  Through this blog, I will be honored to share some of the insights and lessons I have learned that will help you to experience more moments of bliss on this earth.