“It is a pleasure to give advice, humiliating to need it, normal to ignore it,” somebody once remarked.
What really happens when you offer advice is … you instinctively send a message to the other person that they don’t have the resources to solve the problem themselves.
Your advice is probably rooted in your expectations, not in the understanding of the other
People who relate their problems don’t really want your advice, even if they seek to sound you out about a problem.
They want you to listen to their problem, perhaps ask open-ended questions to help them think through the problem, and help them explore the options they have.
People Want You to Listen, Not to Talk
Rushing in with suggestions carries the risk that it may strike our teenagers as a vote of no confidence when they are mainly seeking our reassurance that they can handle whatever life throws at them.
Instead of proposing solutions, we might bolster adolescents as they sort things out. Saying, “I’ve seen you get through things like this before” or “This is tough, but you are too” can effectively loan teenagers a bit of perspective and confidence when their own feels shaken.
Even teenagers who have already addressed a problem may still seek our reassurance. [A teenager] said she sometimes tells her parents “about a situation and what I did to solve it” in order to get validation that she made the right choice. When this happens, she says she’s “not really looking for their solution, just checking that they think I did the right thing with my limited problem-solving experience.”
Adolescents often feel vulnerable, perhaps especially so when they open up to adults about their jams and scrapes. In these moments, well-intentioned guidance can land like criticism, and lectures or “I-told-you-so”s—however warranted—may feel like outright attacks.
More often than not, offering our teenagers an ear, empathy, and encouragement gives them what they came for. If your teenager wants help solving the problem, divide the issue into categories: what can be changed and what cannot. For the first type, focus on the needs your teenager identifies and work together to brainstorm solutions. For the second type, help them come to terms with the things they cannot control.
Often People Want You to Listen—Sharing is an Act of Self-Reflection
When people open the door of their confidence, tread delicately.
Open the ear of your heart. Don’t impose your perspective, but help them find a solution that works for them.
- To empathize, say, “You are in a tough situation,” “gee, that stinks, it totally not fair to you,” “I understand why you feel this way,” “You have every right to be offended,” or “I’m so sorry you have to face this kind of difficulty right now.”
- To help clarify, say, “I might be wrong, but it seems to me …,” “Are you concerned that …,” or “what if ….”
- To expand perspective, say, “This may seem like a big deal at this time, but how will you feel about this in a week? A month? A year?” or “what do you think is the worst fallout of this?”
Idea for Impact: Often, the Best Advice You Can Give is Not Providing Any At All
If pressed to offer an opinion, tease out the options they’re considering. Ask, “What do you think you ought to do?” or “What would you like to happen?”
Don’t offer a solution that pleases you more than it does the other. The best solution to a problem somebody is facing is the one that works for the other person, not you.