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Advice on Giving Advice

by Laura Alden Kamm: The very nature of consulting is to offer advice. In consultations with my clients, I offer intuitively driven advice on what I see happening in someone’s body, situation, or life path. Laura Alden KammWe all are advisors from time to time. Offering advice can be as tricky to give as to receive – and we all know how difficult it can be to listen to someone else’s advice, even when it is sound, especially when we have a pattern that says, “No! Don’t listen!”

My father was a counselor and minister. He taught me a lot about supporting people who were moving towards what he called their “inner joy.” As a result, I spent time studying, working in the trenches with people for almost 30 years, and am always thinking about better ways to deliver words of wisdom. Gathering from my experiential pool and suggestions from psychologists, here are some thoughts about the do and don’t of offering an opinion. For those who have much to say that would help those around them, or who want to learn to be a more useful resource, this may offer some new insights.

Five things that improve your advice:

  1. Listen with your heart and your mind. If you listen intellectually, you may have logically sound advice. Sure, there are a million reasons why someone should keep a well-paying job they hate and “be practical.” While you want to use your intelligence and not encourage irresponsible behavior, sometimes the best kind of advice is recognizing when a friend should have permission to be impractical. At times, our heart (the mouthpiece of your soul) prompts the extraordinary.
  2. Watch your words. Just because people are momentarily frustrated with their partners, kids or parents, it doesn’t give you a free pass to insult them. If you do, it is likely to be held against you when they make up. Neutrality maintains a clear head and heart, increasing your ability to be helpful. When offering advice equanimity rules.  
  3. Speak up when you see a pattern. People don’t always hear themselves or see the bigger picture. The best advice-givers excel at recognizing (often through intuition) the process of how people are reacting, not just the content of what is making them upset. As I listen to people, I intuitively watch their energy respond to their words, congruency (or lack there of) is revealed. Energy never lies.
  4. Keep things confidential. Don’t even think there is one person you can tell, whether or not you are married to them or they are your best friend who you believe could offer advice to pass along. Unless you have permission, you remain trustworthy by not gossiping. Integrity is the keystone of advice giving.  
  5. Be available. Let the friend know they are important by making time to talk (if not immediately, then offer an alternate time to speak). If someone is struggling, it helps immensely to know you care, regardless of what light you can shed. Be present to them, even if you cannot be physically present.  Send a prayer or affirming thought of love and support.

Five advice pitfalls:

  1. Don’t offer your opinion. It is surprising but true. When people ask your advice, it is not the same as asking your opinion. If someone is having difficulty making a decision, the best thing you can do is lead the way so that they can discover their OWN opinion. That means asking questions, questions, questions…not doing all the talking.
  2. Don’t tell a person what to do. This takes away people’s responsibility for their life and their decisions. And you don’t want to be the one to blame if it doesn’t go exactly as planned. They are the only one who can choose the steps on their path.
  3. Don’t repeat yourself. People often think that the more that they repeat something, the better the chance that the advice will sink in. They heard you the first time, and you will only become a nag if you keep banging on the same door. To make an excellent cup of tea, it needs to steep.  To make an excellent choice….
  4. Don’t turn it around. You may have gone through something JUST like this, or had an aunt who dealt with the same thing. But be forewarned that your friends may simply resent you for shifting the attention and making them sit through your story while they are in need. It’s about them.
  5. Don’t spend hours on a problem. Regurgitating the same dilemma over and over again won’t solve anything. It only encourages the brain to continue down that repetition track like a dog with a bone. Most issues, even the complex, can be discussed in under half an hour. Anything over that is likely to be wasting your time and their mental clarity. Elongating a problem gives energy to the problem, not the solution.

When called upon for advice, meet people where they are. A true measure of an effective friend, advisor, or consultant is being an in-depth, intuitive listener. It is vital to meet (and listen to) people right where they are. They are seeking advice for that which is hurting now, even if that pain is tied to a past event or a future concern. The only place you can help them is in this moment, unruffling the feathers of suffering right here, right now.

Above all, when giving advice, remember people are probably facing enough emotional distress without your help. Whether it is a difficult medical decision, a love life hurdle, or a major life choice, you want to avoid adding your own fears or insecurities and try to sooth them so they are clearheaded enough to see the path ahead. Inspire them. Allow their own inner knowing (intuition) to come on line; it will guide their journey for a lifetime.

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