Where would I be without advice? I am frustratingly indecisive when it comes to making decisions regarding my own personal life; often, I find myself going in circles trying to make a decision. From the classes I should take next semester, the clothing I should wear, career decisions, where and what I should eat for my next meal- I often find myself sending out a quick “HELP/What should I do?” text out to friends, or dialing my mother during the middle of the work day or the wee hours of the night when I fail to make a decision. The advice that I’ve gathered through the years from friends and family has made an impactful impression upon me. The time that people take to pull from their own experiences and put together a personal and rational take on a situation is invaluable. Giving advice seems so simple- but in reality can be incredibly difficult. What does it take to be a good provider of advice? And, how do you know when advice, although unwanted, is necessary?
Giving advice is a responsibility, one that I think a lot of people don’t take seriously. We are quick to say: “here’s what I would do” or “it’s just about…”, offhandedly without fully engaging in discourse with the individual asking for our help. There is an art to giving advice. Advice givers must listen. From my own experience, I know that when I hear even a snippet of a story, I am quick to spin off on a tangent without fully listening to what’s being said. This leads to a decrease in the quality of the advice that we can give, leaving the individual seeking our help frustrated or even more perplexed. Furthermore, there is often a focus on the person giving the advice, rather than the person that is asking. In my quest to be a good advice giver, I’ve learned a lot from the podcast Dear Sugar Radio- a revamp of the popular Dear Sugar advice column that originated on The Rumpus.
Each week, hosts Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond come ready to listen, discuss and solve problems of writers [and listeners] across the U.S. Topics covered include infidelity, sexuality, sexual assault, guilt, marriage, academics, immigration etc., and the writers of the letters sent to the host range from teens to those older listeners. One of my favorite episodes, “The Weight of Love” explores the relationship between weight gain/loss and relationships. And even though a there’s a wide range of topics covered and the varying writer ages , The Sugars still manages to make the advice they give relatable and empathize with the emotions of the advice seekers.
The Sugars’ responses are thoughtful. Although they are careful to respect the writer, they are not afraid to disagree, call them out on their mistakes, etc. Strayed and Almond are also not hesitant to admit that they simply do not know what the writer should do, and tell them to seek help from other writers. The whole time, they never take the focus off the person seeking advice and place it onto themselves. They find a way to draw from their own life experiences and weave it into their responses.
Still, the question remains, how do you know when not to give advice? It’s so tempting, engaging and self serving. In reflecting on my own indecisiveness- I do realize that I don’t like people telling me what to do when I don’t explicitly ask them for advice. It’s degrading, annoying and intrusive-but sometimes, it’s needed. When you’re not looking for advice, it can be surprising when someone says: “Here, do this…” Sometimes, you are so intimately involved in a situation that it’s hard to view the situation objectively. In those cases, you need a nudge in the right direction from someone else. In the art of advice, there is a balance between being able to accept advice when it is and isn’t asked for, and being able to respectfully and thoughtfully give advice. The key is to always keep the emotions and the circumstances surrounding the advice seeker in mind.