I can see why people often want someone to simply listen rather than give their opinion. The person with the problem knows more than you do about their situation. When you don’t have skin in the game or know the nuances of a predicament, your advice can come off as arrogant and insensitive.
It’s a brutal and hard world, and often we simply need to process or share what’s happening with those we trust to get clear on our convictions.
If we are a friend or trusted advisor, the temptation is to come with answers quickly. Sometimes, it’s well meaning. We want to help.
Other times, it’s irritating. There are often underlying reasons why a decision was made or sins overlooked. And the problem can get enshrouded in friendships, power dynamics, family alliances, owed favors, and many other relational factors hidden to what seems apparent to solving a problem.
It’s hard to unpack those spiderwebs and you can get terrible advice in the process if you share incompletely. “Yes, don’t you think I know that? But how do I keep the relationship?”
These days, I try to practice the following:
- If I have problems to share, measure the person. If they can’t help, don’t share. Better to go for a run instead and sort it out emotionally and strategically.
- If someone is sharing their problems, listen with care as much as possible. Try to understand what they are not saying.
It saves resentment on both sides when I can stick to these practices. What I find is that most people know how to solve their problems. It may be a hard call they don’t want to make. It may be a relationship they don’t want to compromise. It may be they don’t want to be inconvenienced.
Or, some people even love their problems. It makes them feel important.
I think it’s magical when you can walk with another person, make a difference and really care. But, it takes sensitivity, acumen and love to make good advice work well.
One thing for sure, you can’t go wrong with humility in any situation.