We all have people that we care for. We hate seeing them struggle or suffer. So, what is the best advice we can give someone that suffers or has a problem?
You would think that they need a new piece of insight, a new piece of information on how to go about solving their situation or problem. Yet, it is usual for them not to listen to us, even if we give the most appropriate advice. Why is this?
First, lets examine the ways in which people give us advice – to see the good and bad sides of it.
Scenario 1. You go to a person and start talking about your situation. Halfway trough explaining it, the person cuts you off and authoritatively states his knowledge of your situation and tells you what you shouldn’t do. – “You shouldn’t be sad about this, you shouldn’t worry about it, you shouldn’t do this.” Shortly after, they tell you what you should do. The issue here is not the quality of their advice, rather their impatience to your situation. The people that fail to listen to our situation also fail to communicate genuine concern about it – about us. This leaves us wondering – do they have our best interests in mind? Are we boring or bothering them with our presence? Or, are they jumping at the opportunity to show off just how much they know about something, how superior they are in some regard? As you can see, not only does this type of communication fail, but it dampens the quality of our relationships with them, it can even make us think that we are worthless in some regard and consequently stop us from sharing our situation next time. What do you think is the best way to approach these people? Should we tell them why we have chosen to tell them these things? Should we ask them are they willing to give us some of their attention politely before starting to talk? Should we feel as if there is something wrong with us the moment they cut us off?
Scenario 2. You sit down with someone, and like previously, you explain your situation to the person, you tell them what is happening and how you feel about it. The difference here is, that the person listens attentively, waits for you to finish. When you do, they pause for a minute to think, and then give you their advice. Sounds better right? It is, much better. Compared to the previous example, in this case we connect with the person. Тhey give us the strong feeling that what is happening maters and that we also matter because of it. This reinforces our relationship with the person, making us open up to them more profoundly in the future. If you have ever listened to an old friend you know that this is very important, because usually the problem that people approach us with in the first instance – is not the real problem in their life. Usually it is a test for them to see whether you actually care – You must pass this test if you want a meaningful relationship with someone. Otherwise all you will hear are going to be mediocre problems and you will be shocked about how people can’t get past those in their life. Don’t fall for this. Another problem we encounter with this example is, that while the person did listen to our situation, at the end they still gave us their advice.
This is a step back and I will elaborate shortly.
Failing at something in life reinforces our negative image about ourselves in life, and straightens the perspective that what is happening to us is something that should actually be happening. When someone gives us a way out, this self image is threatened. The status of what “we are” is threatened and it (the threat) is usually larger than our will to change. So we end up ultimately negating the advice or accepting our own interpretation of it – but the interpretation is not aimed to help us, rather it is aimed to retain the current self image, forcing us to fail and ultimately saying “I told you so, to the person giving us advice”.
Another problem is our ego. When someone tells us something, our ego, our decision making capacity is challenged. Forcing the aspect that our situation is a matter of choice and that we have happened to make the wrong one. This creates a mental barrier to the person telling us what to do, and consequently a mental barrier to their advice. Leading us to, ignore the advice, to permanently block any action of the sort, or even to do the opposite. “Don’t go out with her – she is bad for you!” Sounds familiar?
The next problem that the person giving the advice fails to see, is that the person experiencing a problem/difficult situation probably already has the full mental capacity do make a right decision in their life, they might even actually knows what is best – but fail to go through with it for some other reason: “Don’t call her, don’t see her, *calls* dude, dude… why did you call her?”
So, now what?
The next time we find ourselves in-front of a friend, the best advice we can give them, is: first to listen.
After we listen, we still shouldn’t give advice. The reasons being their ego, reliable mental capacity (they are capable of figuring out the best thing to do) and receptiveness. So how do we go around this?
We manipulate. We turn on the “inner salesman” and we persuade. We must realize that giving advice is the same process as selling and this is key in understanding why people don’t follow trough on our advice – It’s because we didn’t sell it to them properly. When you think of it from this angle, you realize that there is a whole pallet of ways towards approaching this. I will share with you some of my favorite ones.
Control with questions
When we tell someone something, we are attacking their ego. But, when we ask them something, they are making a promise. Think of it this way: If you say it – I don’t believe you, if I say it – Then it must be true. People wont conflict their answers and opinion (that leads to too much cognitive dissonance), so the best way to lead them to the right decision is to ask them questions. Actually, there is a “rule” in sales, that states: Everything you want to tell a person, think of a way you can tell them using a question. So instead of saying: Hey you should go out more often. Say: Do you think that it would be smart if you were to go out more often? If the person says “yes” – Great. If they says “No” – You get the opportunity to ask what is blocking them and work on it.
This is reverse-psychologyish. What we do here, is to offend their ego so much that they do anything just to prove us wrong. We only to this when we know that a person will not accept our opinion. “You know what, maybe you can’t be better, maybe this is all you are good for. Why should you go to therapy, you will just quit after the first two sessions.” This works only when you challenge their ability to take action, don’t you dare go and give someone a “diagnosis”. “Hey I think you might be fucked up because your mom left” – Don’t do this! You are not giving them an action pattern that they can follow! They will resent you for it or even worse, accept it, and without no action pattern that will change their situation, they will internalize and integrate it into their self image. So, be very careful with this one. If they hate you for it – then it’s working, and don’t try to play the “I had your best interests in mind” card, they will just feel played and will still resent you. So, keep that in mind – it’s more of a sacrifice than you might have initially thought.
Show them by asking for help
People disregard themselves as worthy, but will either genuinely help a person in need or boost their ego by preforming an altruistic act. Use this predisposition to devise a similar situation that mimics their own and ask them to help you with it. “Hey, I’m feeling kinda lonely these past few weeks, mind if we go out together?” or “Dude, I can’t seem to finish anything I start, would you spend some time at the library to study together?”, “I feel like hurting myself, I’m scared, can you take me to a therapist?”
You can probably figure out or research a few more way to go about this – The important thing to remember is that you are selling, even if they are dying from a bad habit (drugs, anorexia) and all they had to do is just stop the habit – you must sell them on getting better and not tell them what should they do.