We’ve all been given advice at some point or another. I’m always flattered when someone comes to me for advice. I think there’s a certain level of trust that must be achieved in order for a person to explicitly come to me. I used to not think much of it, but at some point I started noticing that people were trusting me with some pretty heavy stuff. That had to count for something. I don’t mean to pay myself on the back though, I’m by no means the wisest person. I too am conflicted at times, and I still call my own go-to guru’s. I’m amazed as to how our problems are perceived by other people, especially wiser people. It’s an art I’d someday love to master. So what is it exactly makes someone a good advice giver?
Don’t be judgemental. I’ve had people come to me with extremely petty situations as well as extremely dangerous situations that should’ve obviously been avoided. Its really easy to point the finger and say “you’re an idiot”, but I find that there’s always a less probable reason as to how they ended up in their situation. If you want to be that go-to person for someone, you have to earn their trust. They shouldn’t be afraid of you, but instead they should know that no matter what their situation is, you’re going to love them. And lets be real, we’ve all done pretty stupid, even hard-to-admit stuff at some point in our lives.
Be someone who listens. Your first impulse might be to give advice based off of the first few facts you’re given. Rookie mistake. The person could be perceiving the facts of matter through their emotions rather than for what they are. Get a feel for their emotional state. It could also very well just be that they’re not seeking advice. How many times have you vented about someone or something? It’s likely that your troubled friend or family member probably hasn’t asked for advice and just wants to vent. You might not be the most equipped person to give advice on the subject at hand (i.e. you don’t have kids, you’re not married, you never moved cross-country), but the person still values your opinion. It’s sometimes easier to organize our thoughts and find solutions when we speak aloud, so you could be doing much more than you think by lending an ear.
Ask questions. Someone I really look up to once taught me that you can easily steer someone’s mind by asking the right questions. I was once in a situation as an advice-giver in which I needed to be extremely sensitive with what I said. In this case, it was important for me to ask questions that ultimately let the person take control of the situation instead of impulsively suggesting “you should do…” or “DON’T do this…”. This tactic has been used on me once before, I’m sure of it, and it works. It works because instead of telling them what to do (which can sometimes deem you as self-righteous), you’re giving them the opportunity to establish their own solution, making them grow as a more independent person. It also helps in steering their emotional thinking to more logical thinking.
Choose your words wisely. I come from an extremely honest family. What I mean by that is, if homegirl puts on some weight, my Tio (uncle) Junior is the first to tell me, “Mami, estas comiendo mucho… (Honey, you’ve been eating too much)” If I haven’t put much effort into my look on a certain day my mom will ask, “Is that what you’re wearing?” It’s straight up Shade City with my family. It’s just the way we are, and most of the time, I’d rather hear the truth than what sounds nice and I’d rather hear it from my family because I know that they’re always coming from a place of love. When I think about it though, if one of my girlfriend’s said, “Hey hun, you might want to lay off the sweets for a bit”, I’d be so offended. Why is that? Shouldn’t I believe that my closest friends are coming from a place of love too? The truth is, I would probably give advice to my sister a lot differently than I would to my friends. It’s important to be aware of who you’re talking to and recognize your boundaries. Remember that it’s never easy to accept when people point out your flaws; know when it’s appropriate to be a little harsh, and even still, be nice. One of my best friend’s has mastered this skill. She’s not afraid to hold you accountable for something, but she has this way of telling you that gives you a small glimpse into what God’s grace must be like. It’s something I noticed about her very early on in our relationship and it’s probably the thing I love most about her.
Understand that its not your choice to make. You can be the best advice giver in the world, you can be the great and all-knowing Mr. Feeny, but itching ears hear what they want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3). Your advice won’t always be regarded as the best solution and that’s okay. It’s important to know when to stop giving your input, especially if the situation is affecting your relationship. Some people learn the hard way, and some people don’t learn at all. Our ultimate job is to love our friends and family.
Image via Harli Marten