Personal Growth - Beware the advice trap
by Aruna Joshi
“Give every man thy ear and few thy voice.”
I have a friend whom I call granny, simply because she imposes her prescription on any topic under the sun, whether asked for or not. I was once undergoing a serious health problem. After thorough investigations, the doctor advised immediate hospitalisation. My husband was driving me down to the hospital at top speed, when I thought I would apprise her of the situation. Without even listening to me completely, pat came the reply, “Why don’t you consult this cousin of mine who is a doctor?” This uncalled for intervention, uttered when the plan of action had already been chalked out and was being implemented speedily, annoyed me intensely. All I had wanted was patient hearing, and some assurance. I had not wanted to be told what to do. The result is that I have now stopped sharing my problems with her.
Most of us love to give advice. Often, advice creeps into our conversation without our realising it. Suggestions entailing ‘should’, ‘ought’, ‘why don’t you’, and ‘why do you,’ flow from our lips. Most of the time, we interpret someone telling us his problem as a call for advice. However, it may not be so. The truth of the matter is that while most of us love to give advice, we dislike being given it. Why so? The reason is that we often give advice for the wrong reasons.
Why we advice
“We tend to give advice because it helps us feel in control when someone tells us of their problem, in a situation of helplessness. “Parents constantly feel the urge to advice their children as they worry for them,” says psychotherapist Ameeta Shah.
Here I am reminded of Vivek, whom I have known since he was a small child. Vivek is now 16 years of age. At this age, when most kids of today’s generation are capable of taking their own decisions in life, Vivek asks his parents’ advice for every small thing. As a child, I have seen this little chap bombarded with so much of advice, that it has now become an integral part of his growing years. You ask him any question and he will look at his parents for the answer. This otherwise bright child has become incapable of taking his own decisions.
By worrying too much about their welfare, we as parents, unknowingly, create blocks in the progress and development of our children. Often, we forget that our children have grown up and are mature, and competent to take their own decisions. Unintentionally, our advice creates an intrusion in the personal space of our children.
I know of a person who is 40 years old, married, and a father of a child, but his parents still think of him as a small child, and feel that it is their moral responsibility to advice him on everything. This invasion into their son’s married life has created tremendous stress between husband and wife, and they are on the verge of a divorce.
Generally, people feel that by giving advice they can contribute to the welfare of other people. In addition, as we advise somebody, our ego gets its nourishment. Though the intention may be to help someone, the little ‘self’ sitting in the corner of our heart will immediately mutter, “See, I know better than him,” with a feeling of superiority.
Another very powerful reason for giving advice is because we are judgemental about people. In the recent past ask yourself how many times you've met a friend and exclaimed, “You have lost weight/put on weight. What is wrong with you? Why don’t you do …” We evaluate people by our own standards and if they depart from that we have the irresistible urge to tell them what to do. There is an underlying sense that the person is not okay and we need to fix him. A friend recalls the time when she met someone who wailed over her appearance, and advised her to take a holiday as she appeared to be stressed. Says she, “I had been feeling fine, but after she was through with me my self-esteem was in tatters.”
Sometimes we advice because it is too painful to listen to someone else’s sorrow. It triggers discomfort within us and to escape it, we cut off the discussion with advice. Men are particularly prone to do this, and the result is often aborted intimacy.
Does advice work?
“Giving advice not only makes the person dependent on you for a quick-fix, but also reduces his frustration tolerance with instant solutions. It does not allow him to put on his own thinking cap. Thus, advice stunts or inhibits his personal growth,” feels Dr Minnu Bhonsle, consulting psychotherapist. She says, “When you advise someone, you are seeing the situation of the other through your frame of reference, based on your culture, upbringing, background, and experience. Therefore, unless your suggestion emerges from within the frame of reference of the one you are advising, it might not make sense to him; it could be irrelevant or could also boomerang and make matters worse for him.”
“Advice can work when there is credibility. Mostly it does not work because it is given without the credibility factor. It is given too insistently, almost making the other rebellious. It is given with an air of, ‘my way is the right way.’ Advice doesn’t work when we have not listened enough to advise the person in a relevant way,” says Ameeta Shah.
Psychiatrist Dr Dayal Mirchandani feels that advice can work when it is informative or when it is framed in the form of questions. In the course of finding the answers to these questions, the person might find the right solution to the problem. He therefore becomes responsible for his own actions, and the giver is freed from the responsibility of the result.
For example if a student is confused about what profession to choose, rather than telling him what discipline to opt for, it is worthwhile to question him on his inclination, and hep him arrive at his own answers. The advice for a similar situation may also be different for different people. It is also important for the advisor not to be too attached to his own suggestions.
Most of the time, more than advising, the need is to offer a patient ear to the person sharing his problem, and to communicate to him the belief that he has the power to find the answers within himself. We need to understand that every person is capable of taking care of himself. This will be possible only if we stop being judgemental about people. Simply being available, not passively but emphatically, is an empowering space. It is a potent space that generates endless possibilities, a place where a person can find answers that work best for him.
How to advise?
Advice works better if given only when asked for. Because the person is receptive to it. In fact, a sensitive and inoffensive way of giving advice is to frame it like an interrogative. This allows the other person a freedom of choice and the space to examine it. There are always finer nuances that the sharer may not be in a position to communicate. Therefore, it is best to give counsel as a possibility – the choice must be left to the man-on-the-spot.
Advice should be given only after listening to the other person patiently and understanding his point of view. Moreover, it should evolve from the crux of the problem. Professional counselling works as one of the best forms of advice as it is based on facts, and the giver is unbiased and therefore unattached with the solution.
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