Does this sound familiar? Your friend comes to you, angsty and infuriated over a recent fight with their partner. You don’t really like their partner. So when she
tells you it isn’t working out, that she’s filled with self-doubt and isn’t sure what to do, she asks you that question you can’t resist answering honestly. What do you think I should do?
Flash forward three weeks later. You’re getting snubbed by your friend because guess what? She and the love of her life are back together, stronger than ever. And she hasn’t forgotten all the things you said about how her man is a jerk who wouldn’t know sensitivity if it punched him in the face.
It’s really hard for me to resist giving my opinion to someone if I have one. Especially if they ask me for one. I’ve used all the excuses in my arsenal to justify this behavior. I care about them! I want them to be happy! They’re reaching out to me for help! I can help fix this!
But over time, I’ve realized that though people may ask for advice, and though you may think that people surely need your unsolicited advice, giving it isn’t often the best way to go.
Now that I’ve expressed just how little people need advice, I’m going to advise you about it. Welcome to the blogosphere – we’re an opinion-filled bunch of hypocrites sometimes.
These days, I’m trying to ask myself these questions before I open my mouth.
1. What does this person really want from me right now? No, like really. Their mouths may say “what do I do?” Their body language may say “please have a reaction about this.” But it’s likely that they are asking for something else. Sometimes people just want you to listen to them, and nod and be like “that sounds really shitty.” Sometimes people just want you to agree with them and whatever they are saying. They want to feel understood and heard.
No need to try to climb into their mind and see what they’re really thinking. I’m just saying it’s fine to take a pause and ask yourself – are they really looking for my ten point plan on how to turn this situation around? Or are they just looking for some compassion and a nod and some affirming words?
2. What am I really saying with the advice I want to give? When I told my friend that her boyfriend was a cheating jackass who completely disrespected and mistreated her and would never leave his other girlfriend for her, I was making a mistake. I didn’t think so at the time. At the time I really thought my words of tough love would get through to her and she’d thank me for it later. She never did. They did eventually break up, but my words formed a rift in our relationship that has never fully healed (and this was nearly ten years ago).
What was my point of saying all those things to her, that so many people had already told her before? Did I really think that one more “he’s a douche” speech would change her mind about her relationship? Looking back, what I really wanted to say was this: I love you and am worried about you because you seem really sad right now. I feel for you. I also can’t talk to you about this for hours every day like we have been. I need to set some boundaries and can we talk about something else right now.
I’m not sure being honest about that would have helped our friendship at all. But it would have been more of the truth than I gave her, and I think it would have alleviated some of the build up that led to my blurting out unsolicited advice.
3. Why the hell do I like giving my opinion about everything? This is more of an ongoing question, and I doubt I have an answer to it. I think everyone has their reasons for loving to give advice. For me, it makes me feel needed and appreciated, which I love. I’m insecure in a lot of my friendships so I want to provide instant gratification. And also, I like feeling right. I like feeling like I know the answer to something when I so often feel like I have no answers to problems in my own life. Giving advice is distracting and it feels good. It’s much harder to practice compassionate listening and mirroring and asking questions free of judgment. That ends up being better in the long-run, or so I hear.
I toss it out to you, readers from the internet. What are the opinions you just can’t help but blurt out? Or have you mastered the biting of the tongue and have some words of wisdom to share?