I’ve been giving friends life advice since junior high. In eighth grade, one even told me that I was like her therapist.
“Her therapist?!” my sister exclaimed she found out what my friend had said. Yup, her therapist. While it was kind of a weird compliment, I was flattered to know she trusted me with her family problems.
In retrospect, it’s no surprise that I’ve ended up in jobs that focused on guiding people: advising job seekers on career development, admissions counseling for graduate students, and recruiting young adults to do community service. It came so naturally to me that I figured I should do it professionally.
If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s to ask people, “Are you really looking for advice?”
It sounds stupid to ask people this if they already told you that they wanted it, but it’s worth double-checking.
One time a friend–let’s call her Sasha–asked me how she should deal with boyfriend issues. After she explained the situation, she asked, “Do you think it’s going to work out between us?”
Given everything that Sasha had told me, I wasn’t so sure. However, I wanted her to give her hope. I told her that if they were more open and honest with each other, there was a chance that they could work things out. She listened, nodded, and didn’t say much after that.
You already know where this is going. At the time, I didn’t.
That’s why I didn’t suspect a thing when Sasha asked to meet me for lunch the next day. When we met, she told me she had something to get off of her chest. Then she explained that she was very upset that I hadn’t told her, “Everything would be okay.” She perceived it as a lack of confidence on my part.
To be honest, I did lack confidence in their relationship. After months of hearing about their relentless drama, I knew that their problems were serious. However, I truly believed–and still believe–that there is always a chance for reconciliation in any relationship if two people are willing to put up an honest fight for it. I love my friend, but I wasn’t going to justify any lies or half-truths she had told her boyfriend.
I explained to her, “A true friend will tell you the truth.” I also pointed out that I never said that it would not be okay. I said that it could be okay if she and her boyfriend were to approach their relationship differently.
I realized that she was simply looking for someone to validate her opinions. She didn’t like what I had to say, but she ultimately respected it.
Whether you’re asking for guidance from me or someone else, you need to ask yourself, “Am I really looking for advice … or do I want something else?”
Maybe you merely want to vent. There is a time and place for that.
Maybe you’re looking for someone to comfort you. In that case, you should warn them that you simply need help coping with the pain. It could save you an unsolicited lecture.
If you’re honest with yourself about what you really want, then you’ll have a clearer idea of what to ask people when you seek their help.