How to give advice that inspires growth
Be sympathetic, actionable, and detailed
We all have this experience. Some friends come to us and say: “Hey. I gonna talk to you.”
Then they started to talk about how life saddens them. “You’re a slut!” my friend shared how her mother called her as she got in a relationship that her mother didn’t like.
“That’s not right” I said to myself. I urged to “fix” the situation.
Then I advised her: “Why don’t you just move away? It’s simple!”
Then, a brief sign of irritation flashed through her eyes. Apparent she wasn’t happy.
Yes. Often advising can backfire. But if done appropriately, advice can give new perspectives that foster changes.
So, how do we give the right advice? I will be walking through a formula of developing advice that not only soothes broken hearts but inspires growth and actions.
S.A.D. Advice = Sympathetic + Actionable + Detailed Advice
Often advice irritates other because the person in distress knows much more about the situation than the adviser.
Uninformed advice can even be unrealistic and arrogant: Just imagine how I would feel if a billionaire advises me to rent out my house to cover my financial difficulties?
The rule of thumb is: understand first, advise later.
Later on, I discovered my friend was an emotional pillar, for her mother that was on the verge of collapsing. My friend was very much distressed by the acts of her. But leaving home would further exacerbate her mother’s mental problem.
Had I known this situation, my advice might have been very different.
Also, if people come to us, they’re seeking to be understood. Although sometimes we can’t understand why they’re sad, for example, some people cry over for getting a C in an exam.
But what if that C may twist their life direction that they’ve been working hard for? We don’t know. All we know is the fact that they’re subjectively distressed.
Tenderly acknowledge their subjective experience first, the action in itself is soothing and can help a lot. To acknowledge others’ feelings, I can say the following lines:
– I can see you’re in immense distress for (the event).
– That must not be easy, isn’t it? You’ve done an excellent job keeping up here.
Here are the tactics, how can we re-work the “move out” advice to my friend to make it more sympathetic?
“That must not be easy, isn’t it? I can imagine I would be very sad too if my mother says this to me. What makes the situation even worse is your mother needs you. You want to support your mother, but your well-being is important too — I might struggle if I’m in your shoes.”
Making advice sympathetic is the first step — if the friend appreciated the idea the advice, it’s a good time to come with an actionable plan. After all, the advice has no power when it’s not executed.
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein
With that said, it doesn’t mean I should keep instructing others what to do.
Come up with a plan that encourages actions together. The process should be a collaborative dialogue to come up with some concrete action that can be taken. The action can be a small one, and it’s often a good choice to commit something small at the beginning.
How do we encourage my friend to take action then?
Friend: I understand maybe moving out is better for me… but I can’t leave my mum behind
Me: Um-huh. I can see you really care your mum.
Friend: I do… But at the point, I don’t know what to do…
Me: Does your mum know what she said have hurt you?
Friend: I don’t know… Haven’t talked to her about this.
Me: Do you want to know? Perhaps she was troubled emotionally and perhaps hurting you was not her intention.
Friend: Yes — I do. I want to understand her but opening my mouth is not easy.
Me: It’s not easy. Let’s work this out.
Like the situation my friend was in, taking action can be hard.
Embarrassment. Confusion. Fear. These are the enemies of taking initiatives.
What would happen if I take the first step? What if things go wrong?
These are reasonable doubts — every person thinks of these when we consider taking action. Keeping them unresolved leads to inaction. As advisers, we don’t just give advice — we are the companion of our friends.
Just like travel companions work on the travel plan together — we work with our friends on the advice to address the roadblocks that may be on the way. How to do it? Here are a few probing questions to ask:
– What may be the emotional challenges taking action?
Trying something new can be daunting. Ask: “How might you feel if you follow the advice?”
This question will lead us into their world so that we can fight the emotional challenges together. Say, social anxiety may deter a friend who’s asked to reach out to more people. Trying to understand their feelings will empower them — as it’s a gesture to stand by their side.
– How to get started? What are the potential challenges on the road and how to deal with them?
We all contemplate one question whenever we’ve got advice: what might come up? For example, if I advise my friend to move out, she needs to consider how to pay the rent. How can we apply the two pointers above, to develop the advice, so it addresses the emotional and practical side of the action?
Friend: I just don’t know … in my entire life I haven’t talk to her about my feeling this way…
Me: Ah huh, how might you feel if you talk to her?
Friend: Awkward? Maybe? I am also afraid of saddening her.
Me: I can see you’re feeling uncertain here. It must be hard.
Me: It’s a bit of regret though — if uncertainty stops two people who cared each other communicating.
Friend: Fair enough. It might not go well though; if the relationship continues to be bad, I might need to move out.
Me: It must not be an easy decision to make.
Friend: Right. How on earth I can pay the rent…
[We then went on to discuss how my friend could finance her decision to move out]
There’s no silver bullet for giving advice. Every person faces their difficulties after all. Often listen wholeheartedly is the best way to support. Don’t give advice just for giving advice.
However, there are tips to make sure advice inspiring. Be sympathetic, advise other from their perspective; Be actionable, it should be something that can be done; Be detailed, on exploring together how to take action.
Advising is a journey that we create with others together. That, after all, is the most important bit for giving an advice power to inspire others for better life.
By the way, if you turns out to be living in Hong Kong, check out the meditation group (Cantonese) that I lead :)