We all want to give the best advice to our friends. What we don’t realize is that when our friend is vulnerable, in tears, seeking for our wise words, we have a lot of power in our hands. As they say, with great power comes great responsibility, so we must avoid giving advice that might lead our friend astray. Here are the steps that you should take to help your friend in the best way you can.
1. Know that they want you to approve of them
When someone asks for advice, sometimes they are simply asking for your approval. They want to hear someone say, Yeah you should do that or Yeah that’s ok. This doesn’t mean that you should always say that, but you should know that an immediate response of judgment might shut down the possibilities of deeper communication.
Keep an open mind and listen. Relax your facial muscles against expressions of disdain or horror, unless your friend wants you to display that kind of reaction. Opt to look understanding and kind. Temporarily set aside your biases, your political inclinations, your religious beliefs, and the like, to make room for the kind of reality that your friend is painting. Step into the person’s shoes and imagine what it’s like to be her.
2. Ask before you say something
If you think it’s your turn to speak once your friend reaches her first pause and looks at you imploringly, you’re wrong. This is merely your cue to ask questions. You need to gather information first in order to evaluate your friend’s problem. Don’t jump to conclusions right away. Ask about her motives, the details of her plans, who will be affected by this decision, what values she wants to uphold, and what she thinks will make her happy.
This is important because sometimes your friend will assume you’ll instinctively know what she’s thinking or what she’s going through without giving you the low-down on everything that has happened to her and everything else that’s happening inside her mind. You need to coax her to flesh out the entire picture or else the situation will be ripe for misunderstanding.
3. Paint various pictures
When someone decides to do something, there can be a number of outcomes. Explore these possibilities with your friend. Ask your friend, if this happens or that happens, will you be ok with it? You have to exercise your creativity when it comes to thinking up scenarios because you want to cover all of your bases. Don’t let creativity though be an excuse to stray toward the illogical. You want your suggestions to be grounded in reality. No fairies please.
4. Use the my-personal-view-on-this caveat
It’s time to give your advice. Start with a caveat or a disclaimer that this is your personal view. You must identify certain personal characteristics and experiences that made you biased toward this course of action. After these disclaimers, you can tell your friend what you would do if you were in her place, and you must explain your reasons for it.
5. End with choice
No matter how smart you are or how experienced, what seems like the right decision for you might not necessarily be the right thing for your friend. End your advice-giving session with, It’s still your choice. Do not guilt-trip or coerce your friend into blindly following your advice. Let your friend think about everything you’ve discussed, so she can figure out for herself what she really wants. After all, encouraging your friend to have a mind of her own is something that a good friend does.
Even if she’s seeking for your advice, your friend is still the main stakeholder in this situation. She is the only person who will truly know what set of life choices she’s willing to live with. It is really her choice, and that in itself will probably be the best part of your advice.
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