This common daily behaviour is futile
I’m studying for a diploma in coaching. One of the first things coaches learn is to not give their clients advice. But…giving people advice is helpful, right? And coaches help clients, so what’s the problem?
Offering advice, whether it’s welcome or not, is an ingrained behaviour for lots of us. Understanding how unhelpful our advice can be, then unlearning that behaviour is more difficult than it sounds.
How often does a friend, family member or colleague come to you with a problem, or to vent about a difficult situation they’re experiencing? In my case, that happens almost daily.
When someone shares, we go into problem-solving mode. We want to ease the pain or frustrations of our confidant; by improving their life in some way, we, in turn feel good about having a positive impact on another being.
But there’s a problem with this set-up.
When I offer advice, that golden nugget is mine. It’s being told through my lens and makes sense in the context of Roz; how I problem-solve, my values, perspectives on the world, and the person I am today, based on my life experience.
My pearl of wisdom is in my ownership. It doesn’t belong to the person I’m sharing it with, and they don’t feel responsible for it because it’s not theirs to devour and act upon. I might think I know them well and can see what’s best for them, but the truth is I don’t really know what’s going on inside anyone else’s head.
In fact, giving advice might portray me as a smart-arse know-it-all. So much for trying to be helpful.
Consider this: how many times have you given someone advice? And how many times has someone acted on your advice? I’m confident there’ll be a hefty imbalance.
Sure, sometimes we look for an easy way out, when navigating through the problem can seem like an all-consuming battle, versus the cop-out of someone telling us what they think we should do. That happens. In those cases I’d argue that the advice is never a truly comfortable fit, because it’s not the recipient’s to keep.
And there are other times when a piece of advice can be so profound; it permeates through our ears at the perfect time and for a few seconds the world stops turning. Our whole outlook can change thanks to the words of another person, who sees life through a different lens. When that happens, I’d suggest you were already half way there, but someone else could articulate your thoughts better than you could in that moment.
In the last 18 months, I’ve become increasingly aware that I often don’t want my friends’ advice. Not because I think they’re talking a load of guff, but because I’ve invested that time in self-development and self-belief. I’ve grown more confident in my ability to solve my own problems and become more resilient to muddle through the circumstances I’d rather be without. I trust my gut and listen to my head. I believe that a deeper understanding of myself has not only made me a stronger person, but also given me a new lease of life. I feel present in the world, aware of my inner workings and bright about my future.
In the same 18 month timeframe, I’ve slowly learnt how rarely my advice resonates with others. But before learning about coaching, I didn’t have the language to express why this was the case. In fact, I previously wrote about my difficulty accepting why two close friends weren’t interested in reading a book which helped changed my life. It’s an issue I’ve broadly struggled with because I’m so proactively-minded; when I have a problem, I’m not capable of dwelling on it or accepting it. I am a classic fixer, an optimist who believes that we are responsible for defining how our story goes, so it’s up to us to make positive change.
I need to get used to being around others who don’t approach life in the same way, and who are capable of deciding on what course of action is right for them.
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