“If it weren’t true, you would see the darn nail sticking out of your head. How pitiful. What a waste of my precious time. Apparently, you want me to actually take the time to see if I’m right before I yank that nail out of your head. What a bore! I’ve made it this far by making good assumptions. That’s how I got to be the boss of this outfit. Everyone knows that my opinion counts. (For sure, it counts more than yours). So, you should see it too. But, nooooo! I have to mess around with all of this silly listening stuff.”
Like it or not, no matter how obvious someone else’s problem may seem to you, you do not have access to what is going on inside their head. Period! Is your assumption about their problem, the cause of their problem or the solution to their problem correct? Maybe! But, you do not, cannot, know if it is correct unless you test your assumption. This is, of course, uncomfortable and inconvenient for those who are lots smarter than their significant others, friends, team members and so forth. It takes so much time, energy, and thought to actually stop and assess one’s understanding of another human being’s distress. Sometimes it takes actual minutes of your valuable time. Why should their feelings matter when the problem is so obvious to you, the smart one?
Advice can sometimes be useful. Sometimes! Sometimes, someone who is not in the middle of a situation can see a problem that you can’t. Sometimes, they might have a different or quirky point of view that can get you unstuck. Sometimes, they have experiences that would help you better evaluate the potential risks or benefits of a particular course of action. Sometimes, the time is right and the person wants your help. And sometimes, probably rarely, advice can be given even when not asked for and still be useful. But, even under the best circumstances advice-giving is risky. There are some rules we should all think about before we fools rush in with our brilliance.
• Make sure you are not just a “hammer-wielder.” The old saying that if your only tool is a hammer, well, that thing sticking out of her head must surely be a nail. Human perception is highly flawed. None of us is a perceptive as we think we are. Yes, it may indeed be a nail but what harm is there is listening to what the other person has to say? What do you lose by taking a moment or two to hear them out, show some respect for their emotions? You might be wrong. Even if you were right, a little respect for their need to be listened to and heard (thoroughly) will go a long way toward maintaining the relationship. If after a little listening the other person wants your advice, they will be more likely to listen to you and give your advice a try if they believe they have been treated like a human being.
• Give the other a real chance to solve the problem themselves. Even if your analysis is correct, the benefit of letting the other work it out on their own greatly increases their willingness to take the steps they need to take to solve it. It helps them build their confidence and increases the likelihood that they will do a better job with the next problem. It reduces their dependency on you. And, it actually increases the likelihood that when it really is an appropriate time for you to give advice, they will take it.
• Take stock of your motives. Are you truly motivated to help? Or, is this, in some way, an attempt to feed your own ego? Make the other look stupid? An attempt to overcome some kind of insecurity on your part? Those motives can backfire big time!
• Have you done your homework? Do you have, truly, more access to the facts? Do you have some special skills or experiences that would contribute to quality solutions to the kind of problem that is being presented?
• Are you being truly mindful? In many relationships, we don’t really think very hard about the advice we give. “We’ve had this conversation a million times so I don’t really have to put any real effort into it.” Just because the solution seems obvious to you doesn’t mean that you can cheat. Don’t take shortcuts, especially with someone else’s well-being. Don’t trivialize someone else’s pain.
Do you truly care about this relationship? If you do, it might be wise to take the time to do it right. If it turns out that your assumption is right, and it is indeed the nail, you might be asked to be the one to remove it. Are you ready to take responsibility for that? And, who knows? Maybe you’re the nail.