The Secret to Great Advice
I’ve been lucky enough to know some pretty kick-ass people in my time. If you don’t count a few dubious boyfriends early on, they are, for the most part, gorgeously gifted human beings who have a strong moral compass about the world and a shit ton of brilliance to share about how to make said world a better place. If you come to them with hairy scaries about your job, your parents, your life partner, your own inner demons, they know exactly what to do.
But, why is it that some people are better at giving advice than others? Why do some people communicate like Charlie Brown grown-ups, while others feel like they are your truest friend in the worst foxhole of your life?
First, Albert Einstein once said that “All knowledge is experience.” I wholeheartedly believe this. The best advice givers I know have looked the devil in the eye and asked him to dance. Hell and back is a pretty good starting point to know what mistakes *not* to make.
Second, if our pal Al was right about experience being the root to all knowledge, then I’d posit that framework is the root of all wisdom. Knowledge gives you experience, but transferring knowledge in lieu of experience must be done through frameworks. Otherwise, it’s just a wall of smarts that the advice seeker is unable to fully comprehend or internalize, and certainly cannot put into personalized, actionable steps. Frameworks, which might be stories, outlines, visuals, are both memorable and democratizing, and allow the experience to feel relevant so that the knowledge can be transferred.
Third, as counterintuitive as it may seem, sometimes advice giving is not really at all about *giving* advice. It is as much about listening as talking. It’s as much about leaving your assumptions and your presumptions at the door. It’s as much about keeping someone company in their pain as it is about hastily dispatching with said pain. It’s waiting until someone is ready — really ready — to move forward, and then helping them at their speed, not yours.
Lastly, more than just listening, good advice givers ask questions. And, not just any questions, but probing, difficult, catalyzing questions. You know the kind of questions that make you think twice, reconsider long-held beliefs, look fear dead on, and live — sometimes for the first time ever — in your own truth? Those — all damn day. In fact, some of the best advice givers never actually give any advice, but rather steer you to get the answers on your own.
And, who doesn’t like an idea they came up with on their own?