How to avoid making the situation worse when asked for help
A shoulder to cry on
Having a friend, loved one or family member come to us seeking advice or to share a problem is something we have all had to face on possibly numerous occasions. This can either be something you absolutely dread, or something you take pride in. In fact, a lot of our daily conversations call for us to give advice on some level or another. Depending on the situation, this can be quite stressful. There is a lot of pressure involved, especially when you run the risk of saying the wrong thing and making the situation worse, even though you only have the best intentions. If you do not enjoy giving advice, then maybe giving bad advice is the way to go and eventually people will stop bugging you. However, If giving advice is your thing, here are some simple things to avoid.
If you cant fix it, don't make it worse
The Proverbs of Solomon 17;28 state that "Even a fool, when he holds his peace, is counted wise". In other words, If you cant say something helpful, don't say anything at all. Giving any sort of advice at all simply for the sake of having something to say is the complete opposite of what you should be doing. Yes it can be tempting to rattle off an inspiring quote and sounding intelligent, but is it really productive? ( and yes I am aware I have used a quote to begin my paragraph, but It does serve a purpose) Your standard go to lines such as "what is meant to be wont pass you....etc", though popular, are not considered advice. Whether you are giving advice, or trying to get up close and personal with some sort of dangerous predator, it never hurts to stop and properly think twice before actually doing it. I would rarely class "meant to be" as being eaten by a tiger. If you think about it, It is quite avoidable, and so is giving your confidante bad advice. All it requires is a little thought.
Don't make it about you
Though it may be tempting when someone shares a problem, it cant be used as an excuse to try and top their story with one of your own. Yes it is perfectly fine to have an exchange with the person and share your opinion, after all, its the reason they came to you in the first place. However, some people overindulge and turn the conversation into a competition about who has been through worse. This may not be done intentionally of course, and may just be an attempt to reassure them that you are both struggling and they are not completely alone. But it can end up having the completely opposite result and by overshadowing a problem they are struggling with, you can make them feel more alone and less important than before they came to you.
Practice what you preach (or at least try to)
Nothing says "I have no idea what I am taking about" quite like hypocritical advice. Similar to when you simply rattle off a quote just for the sake of giving advice, it may make us feel wise and seem intelligent, but just end up making things worse. Making the mistake of giving hypocritical advice is ridiculously easy to make because it comes in so many forms. For example, telling someone to "live life with no regrets" can have pretty disastrous consequences as well as being hypocritical. Everybody has regrets. Nobody makes the perfect choices every time. Life is just a series of trial and error. And telling someone to live a life of no regrets is simply bad advice anyway. Unfortunately, people love following this piece of advice because they feel it gives them the right to do whatever they please. For example, you could cheat on your partner because you are bored in a relationship and don't want to pass up an opportunity with someone else and use the old "live with no regrets" to justify it. Just because we have the right to be happy, does not mean we can do so at the expense of an others feelings. Hypocritical advice can also be something as simple as telling someone to quit drinking while you are smoking a cigarette. This example is pretty self explanatory. But perhaps the worst thing about hypocritical advice is the fact that, as I already mentioned, It is so easy to do. We are all guilty of hypocrisy from time to time. It is just something that happens. It doesn't mean we are bad people, nobody likes pointing out their own flaws. But when a friend comes to you looking for help or advice with a serious issue, it pays off to put the effort into avoiding this pitfall.
Don't force it
If a friend or loved one seems a little off or has been through something recently, try not to bombard them with questions about it. Let them know from time to time, that if they need a friend or someone to confide in, that you are there for them, but sometimes, people just need to work through stuff alone. At times, simply knowing you have the option of talking to someone can be all you need. The fact that they need time alone should not be taken personally, it could just mean they feel a little crowded. Pride can also play a part. So by simply letting them know they have a place to turn to when they need to, you have fulfilled your duty as a friend or loved one.
Life is full of harsh truths to learn. You are responsible for your own actions and no amount of advice you receive can make you unaccountable. But you also have the choice to learn something from your decisions. Giving advice is a tough job. Sometimes, telling the person what they need to hear may not be what they want to hear and their feelings could end up being hurt. But good advice requires honesty. Other times there may be the feelings of more than one person at stake, for example, if a friend is going through a divorce. You may be tempted to side with your friend, but again, what they want to hear may not be the right thing. Good advice requires impartiality. Try to empathize with their situation and show them that there may be a "Plan C". Some times people need a change of perspective and to think outside the box. Good advice needs understanding . Finally, there may be a time where you are not required to say anything at all. Simply listening to someone when they need to vent or unload a burden is the best option. A good ear is a wonderful quality to have and can do a lot of good, after all, they might already know the answer themselves and just need to hear their problems out loud. As tricky as giving advice can be, as long as a person knows they are being heard it will comfort them. As well as that, it will help you chose the right advice to give. Helping someone make a decision can cause you to face a few decisions of your own.
© 2015 Sean Gorman