Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Advice...you ain't gettin' it!

Those who know me know that I rarely offer advice. In fact, Emmett has said on several occasions that my reservation is near Minbari levels, which I suppose is true. I am comfortable with telling people only what I think they need to know, and little else.

But back to advice. People offer advice in the same way they exhale: constantly and without thinking. Sure, they usually - but not always - mean well, but just as usually that advice is neither required nor desired, and it's often pretty damned foolish, and uninformed to boot. Sometimes people just like to hear themselves talk, and to feel important because they think they know better than you. And who takes even 10% of even the best advice? Do you know these people? I don't.

My experience is that the hardest thing about approaching a life problem is not finding the answer, but discovering the question. After that, the answer usually attends to itself. Therefore, on the rare occasions where I consent to advise, I restrict myself to helping the listener define the question, and then letting her discover her own answers. IMO that's a much more helpful approach then telling someone he should do this or that, as if I know his situation better than he does. Also, that method keeps me from sounding as if I have some direct path to the wisdom of the ages.

Let's review...

BAD ADVICE: That guy doesn't treat you right and you should just leave him.
GOOD ADVICE: It sounds as though you're not happy with the treatment you're receiving. Maybe you should think about just what treatment you'd like to receive, and then decide if you are likely to get that treatment from him.

As you can see, the BAD ADVICE assumes that the adviser knows the situation and can accurately direct the listener's action based on that knowledge. This approach can leave the listener feeling pressured and resentful. The GOOD ADVICE avoids making judgements on the listener's life, but instead tries to get the listener to reexamine the situation from a different perspective. This approach encourages the listener to rely upon his own judgement, leavened with a bit of objectivity.

I don't have a witty or inspiring way to end this post, so I will stop trying to think of one and just sign off.


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