People think that How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is a guidebook for manipulation, but they are gravely mistaken. If you read the book carefully, there’s a line there that says “I am not suggesting flattery. I’m talking about a new way of life.” That new way of life means understanding that “criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself”. He also says, “instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try to figure out why they do what they do. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism and it breeds sympathy, tolerance, and kindness.”
There was a time when I made this mistake. I asked someone about what he thought about a certain thing, and I didn’t like the answer. Then, I realized that I never asked the question to know what he thought; I asked the question because I wanted someone to approve of what I had already thought. Not a good thing, no.
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.