The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself. –Oscar Wilde
We’ve all been faced with those moments when a friend turns to us, hopefully, handing his or her decision into our hands: ‘You tell me, what should I do? What do you think is better?’ If you’re one of the lucky, blessed ones, giving good advice comes naturally to you, and you thrive in this moment and are able to immediately tell your friend what your thoughts are, and show them logical and reasonable ways to deal with their situation without sounding pompous, controlling, or delighting in their helplessness. For most of us lesser mortals, though, this is a moment of great tension and we feel put on the spot. Fortunately, there are places you can find ‘advice’ for giving advice, and here’s one of them!
For starters, it’s important to make sure that advice is being asked for, and that your friend doesn’t just need someone who will listen to what he or she is saying, and offer understanding and a silent but alert ear. There are times people just want someone to talk through what they are feeling, and maybe just ‘mirror-talk’ what they are saying. Sometimes, that is all people need and are looking for, instead of actual full-blown advice. When you are sure that a person actually wants you to advise them, then be aware of the responsibility which is upon you – advice can play a crucial role, whether the situation is major or minor.
There are times when your friend’s problem might seem something which has been recurrently happening for a long time, and you might feel frustrated at being caught in the same situation, consoling them over the same thing all over again, while wanting to fix it. I think the most important thing when you’re in a situation of helping and advising a friend is, to get rid of your frustrations and your perceptions and your ideas about the problem, and to put yourself in their shoes – and walk in them- completely. Forget your presuppositions and ‘if I was in her place, then…’ and actually feel what that person might be feeling. Let go of yourself and your problems for a moment, and let yourself genuinely think about the other person and what would be best and possible for them to do. Always ask whether the person is looking for concrete ideas or steps to get out of the situation, or just someone to walk them through it.
It’s important to not interrupt the person when they rant, that’s a process of release and catharsis as well. Let them go on and rant about their emotions, and get things off their mind. In the process, they might look at this differently and talking about it might be their way of dealing with it. Be the friend who is there to listen attentively to everything they say.
Remember the old cliché – Honesty is the best policy? That applies here too! Don’t say you know how they feel, when you don’t. What matters is that you are there for whatever they need you for. Don’t respond immediately if you don’t know what you want to say, let them know you’re listening and will think about it and let them know your thoughts later. Another trap to avoid is to make value judgments on their behavior – people are often vulnerable and distraught, and you need to ‘be in their shoes’ while they recount their experience, and not be judgemental.
If you do have some advice to give, make sure it doesn’t come out as preaching – another key to giving good advice is to not make it seem like one. Put it across gently, and make it seem as much their idea as yours. Don’t sound superior, but say things like ‘It’s important for me to help you figure this out,’ and then put across your idea, while also asking them their thoughts are.
Commit to being there for them through the change, and not only in the immediate moment. Acting upon advice and changes can be tough, and it’s necessary for your friend to know you’re in it for the long run, and not just for the weekly ranting or breakdown session over fries and coke and sad serials. Often, people already know the scary change they need to make, but need a friend to hold their hand through it all.
You need to play the role of the realist as well the optimist, and juggle between the two. While you must encourage your friend, you must also make sure that their expectations are grounded and that they are aware of the risks of any venture they are taking and not believing in complete, guaranteed results and outcomes.
While all these strategies are important, what is vital is: kindness and being straight from the heart. There is no place for pretence in moments like these, and you may blunder when it comes to advice, but make sure you’re being kind, warm and true. Be there for your friend, make sure you are patient, and remind yourself of the situation they are in. Help make their days brighter and take their mind off things through little gestures, whether it’s grabbing a lunch or coffee together, surprising them at home, or spending a night together. It’s important for them to remember that their problem isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of their life, and there are other things to enjoy and be part of , and friends who still care.