What Do People Really Want When They Ask for Advice

Giving advice has two pit falls. The first is you might be wrong. The second is you are subtly implying the person you're talking to isn't smart enough to solve their own problems.

This is going to sound a little funny coming from someone who writes an advice column. But, here it goes anyway. It is a bad idea to give people advice when they come to you with a problem. Well, at least at first. If you think back to the last time you went to someone for advice you really two different questions. One was explicit. The problem you needed as solution to. That question was fully articulated in your head and it’s what you ended up saying. The other question was implicit. It was a question you couldn’t quite put your finger on and it made you nervous. Sure, the words leaving your mouth were, “Hey, do you have a minute? I’m trying to work out this issue. I could really use your advice.” But the implicit question that was chewing on your heart was, “Despite having this problem, am I ‘OK’? Am I still a decent person in your eyes? Do I still belong despite this issue?”

Sticking with that memory, I’m willing to bet the person you asked advice from gave you excellent advice. It’s was probably even something you yourself would have come up with on your own given the chance. But immediately after hearing it, you felt a little embarrassed.  Maybe you even hoped beyond hope you could figure out how to change the subject as smoothly as possible. You were helped but were still left with the implicit question.

When someone comes to us for advice and we don’t answer the, “Am I still OK?” problem, it’s going to feel like the answer is, “No!” When someone you care about comes to you for advice, stop. Lean into the person and not the problem. Don’t solve the problem right off the bat. Make it clear to them that their problem does not make them a problem. Validate them by saying it sounds really difficult what they are going through. Normalize the issue by letting them know you’ve faced a similar, if not the same, problem yourself. Maybe even throw in how you yourself felt embarrassed when you asked for help. Answer the implicit question first – “I really care about you. I’m sorry you have to sort out that hair ball of a problem. Don’t worry, I got your back.” The landing on this is key. Pause. Let the message sink in. Say it a few more times. When you see the other guy’s shoulders calmly drop only then move into solution mode.

Yonasan Bender, SW graduated from Hebrew University’s School of Social Work. He has his psychotherapy practice at The Place: The Jerusalem Centre for Emotional Wellbeing. To share your thoughts, experiences, questions, or a different perspective, you can reach Yonasan Bender at 053-808-0435 or email him by clicking HERE. To learn more about him and his work, click HERE.

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The Place is where therapists, individuals and the community connect to create safety, strength and success. At The Place, men and women discover the freedom and safety to move past those issues which are preventing them from living life to its fullest. Our goal is to help each of our clients discover his or her own strengths as powerful tools in the healing process.

The Place is a multi-faceted clinic offering both individual and group therapy, support groups, interactive evenings and lectures, educational classes, and drop-in hours. Our comfortable, confidential, relaxed environment allows clients and their families to explore sensitive issues and create positive change. We believe that the key to mental health and emotional well-being is inside you.

At The Place, male and female therapists work independently or as a team to explore sensitive issues and facilitate positive change for individuals, couples and families from all sectors of the community. Some of our specialties include emotional eating, grief counseling, internet addiction, phobias, anxiety & OCD, childhood challenges, premarital counseling, couples therapy and intimacy issues, postpartum support, personality disorders, psychiatric care, and more. Connect with a caring professional in person at our comfortable Jerusalem offices, or by video, phone, and text. We’re here for you.

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