“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves and not to twist them to fit our own image.” -Thomas Merton
Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who was struggling with a personal decision she needed to make. Coming into our conversation, my friend shared that she had been given lots of advice from other people about which was the right choice to make. The struggle my friend was having was not with the choice she wanted to make, but rather with the unsolicited opinions of others that greatly interfered and influenced her. My friend was left feeling confused and even guilty because the choice she wanted to make was not supported by others.
During our conversation, my friend asked the question, “Why can’t others leave this choice to me, and if we do have a conversation, why can’t others have an open mind?
That’s a great question
My friend’s question invited me to think about all the times I have given unsolicited advice (because of course, I thought I knew best) to my adult children, my spouse, and countless friends. The advice I gave may not have been completely wrong, but chances are, my input may not have been what was best for the other person. Why? Because I am not living in their circumstances and do not have all the facts nor the same desires and expectations for results. When I think about it, my advice and probably yours is based on what we would do if we were faced with the same decision, but not necessarily what is the best choice for someone else.
Please don’t take this the wrong way
Sometimes people do ask for and want to hear our thoughts, but sometimes, people may simply just want us to listen to them. Giving the gift of listening allows others to come to logical and promising solutions to the challenges they are facing without our input.
A coaching colleague of mine always asks permission before she shares her opinion with me, “May I give you my thoughts? Or Would you like to know what I think”? Asking a question like this before she offers advice allows me the freedom to say “Sure….. or no, I’m good, but thanks anyway.”
Recently a coaching client shared one of her trade secrets from the teaching world. Instead of immediately giving an answer or opinion to a topic or issue, try asking a question starting with “I wonder.” For instance, when someone is sharing about a challenge or decision in their life, ask something like this: I wonder what you plan on doing about _______”? Or, I wonder what choice you think is best for you”?
My client went on to say that asking this question instead of firing off an opinion opens the door for the other person to continue with the conversation. I would add, this creates a safe environment for conversation to go deeper and encourages others to value their own ability to make hard decisions.
We won’t always get it right!
Sometimes it’s hard to hold back from sharing with others what we believe to be best, but becoming aware of how often we are giving unsolicited advice is the first big step in allowing others to make their own choices. Most importantly, letting others choose to be right or wrong permits growth and freedom….. even if sometimes their choice results in negative consequences!
Time for personal reflection….
Are you aware of when your advice is being asked for and do you refrain from offering suggestions when not asked for?
Are there times when you simply just listen to a friend or a loved one and stop yourself from trying to fix their problem?
Do you ever ask your loved one, “How can I specifically help you in this situation,” instead of assuming you know what’s best for them by telling them what they need to do.
When discussing a topic that you have strong feelings toward, which do you care more about……The person and the relationship or being right?
Maybe you are the one who is getting a lot of unsolicited advice? When was the last time you started your conversation out with something like this, ” I want to talk about ______ with you, but I’m really not searching for advice, just need someone to listen.”
Every day I get the opportunity to walk beside coaching clients who are practicing setting healthy boundaries in their life to improve their relationships. I would love to have a conversation with you.
You and your life always matter,
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