Why Advice Is Not a Dirty Word
Updated: Sep 12, 2021
IN THE COACHING WORLD, ADVICE IS A DIRTY WORD.
Life Coaches are taught to help people tease out their own answers from their smarty pants brains. Because that totally works and is awesome. Usually that means undoing a lot of advice giving tendencies, which is a great skill to have (you know, listening, asking questions, not bossing people around, etc. It’s good shit!)
Yet, we seem to be surrounded by people who ask for advice and/or feel compelled to give others unsolicited advice. Everyone has parents, friends, nosy neighbours, well wishers, co- workers, frenemies, recurring baristas, and so on, with whom giving and receiving advice is likely a common occurrence. It’s a complicated world out there! We need advice!
Firstly, sometimes we need input from others. You might remember a time in your life when you had no idea what your next step should be. Likely you asked for advice because you needed ideas, examples, stories, and inspiration.
Clients sometimes ask for my advice or opinions. But I had to learn to recognize when it’s appropriate and when it’s not to be giving advice in a Life Coaching context (and in my personal life… which was a bigger learning curve lol!)t. When my client directly asks me for advice, I have two options: 1) An undetermined bout of silently gazing into each other’s eyes, which can be nice sometimes, but not necessarily helpful; or 2) After confirming they are looking for ideas to fuel their own plans, provide some helpful suggestions in an friendly, open “take-it-or-leave-it” manner, then collaborate with my client to help them form a plan that’s individualized to their needs. Followed my optional gazing into each other’s eyes.
Yes, advice can be hella problematic. I’m sure we’ve all offered someone advice only to have it come back and bite us in the butt. Like when you advised your friend to break-up with their person but instead and they got engaged and you’re not invited to the wedding and their wedding has an open bar *sad trombone* Or, who hasn’t tried following someone’s advice because it seemed like such a good idea but then it didn’t work at all in your real life, leaving you frustrated and feeling like a disappointment and possibly confusing your friend to whom that thing happens to come naturally? And what about Askholes (more on that later!) - those friends who constantly ask for your advice and then never follow it?
DO WE REALLY WANT SOMEONE ELSE TO TELL US WHAT TO DO?
People ask for advice all the time. A person in IKEA once asked me which side table they should buy for their bedroom. I get it, the IKEA ‘experience’ can be intense, which can sometimes result in this “Somebody, ANYBODY, tell me which one of these damn tables to buy!” I’m pretty sure they didn’t choose me because I have all the trappings of an interior designer, but rather because I was within earshot (Hey, I’m anybody!) and they wanted to leave IKEA at some point in time (preferably with a table).
In my experience, people don’t really want someone to tell them what to do. But when we feel stuck, lost, frustrated, or a combination of all three, life can feel out of control and the idea of having someone else tell us what to do or give us the answer can be very tempting. Sometimes we know people who just have their shit so handled, that we’re like “Gimme some of that!”
SO WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH ASKHOLES?
Admit it: We’ve all been this person at least once. And we all know how annoying it can be when an Askholes gets going. Being a Life Coach has helped me become way less annoyed by this whole Askhole phenomenon, which I’ve decided qualifies me to answer the above question.
Why would someone ignore advice that they literally just asked for? So many reasons! They might just be talking it out, or collecting ideas, or perhaps they have an intentional plan to annoy you (not impossible!)
More like it’s that your advice just isn’t a good fit for them. You could suggest that I knit for relaxation because you love knitting so much, but I’ve tried and it just makes me want to punch the yarn and other people in my vicinity. If I was getting ready for a street brawl, knitting would get me in the mood, but it won’t work for relaxation.
Or maybe they gave it a whirl and it didn’t pan out, so they (smartly) quit. You could suggest I do hot yoga, and I might initially think “Ooh, smart!” But then I remember “Wait, I hate heat. I spend all summer sitting on top of my AC eating freezies”. Hmmm, maybe hot yoga isn’t for me. Knowing what doesn’t work for us is just as valuable as knowing what does. Sometimes discovering that means trying it and giving it up (it’s not personal!)
The biggest reason I’ve found that people ignore advice is that they aren’t actually ready to change even though they really, really want to, so they just decide they are ready and get on with the advice collecting (impatient, much? I can relate…). The problem is: you actually have to want to change and be ready, willing, and able to do the things. Wanting to change but not quite being ready for it is called the “Contemplation Stage of Change” and it’s a perfectly valid place to be, though most people don't love it. It can feel like you lack discipline or motivation, and to other people you can seem flaky and flippy-floppy.
The problem is that when you’ve put a lot of effort into listening to them go on and on and then providing kick ass solutions born from your very own smarty pants brains! Gah! Recognizing that Askholes can be in (or stuck in) the Contemplation Stage of Change can free up a lot of mental and emotional energy. Offer up a couple ideas and then just listen and smile and nod, and let your Askhole friend talk and think it out. When they are ready, they will move to action. It’s not your responsibility to get other people to do things no matter how much you care about them or how high the stakes are.
On the other side of Askholes are Unsolicited Advice Givers, or UAGs, a term I just made up (good for me!). In any case, UAGs are champions of the word “should” (an actual dirty word, in my opinion!) They kindly let people know that they should quit smoking and they should take up Pilates and they should eat more fibre even though nooooobody asked them. Maybe they know from experience and are actually the smartest. Or maybe they just have a lot of opinions and poor impulse control.
Regardless, too much unwanted advice giving can be fatiguing for all involved. The UAGs are bummed because hardly anyone takes them up on their amazing ideas. The listeners are bummed because being under a consistent barrage of shoulds, no matter how well intended, can feel like what you’re doing right pales in comparison to what you’re doing wrong.
There's a lot of ways you can look at UAGs. In my experience, most of these people just so badly want to help others make their lives better that advice just pours out of them, which is kind of sweet. In which case what they need is Life Coaching training so they can learn to harness their helping power without all the should-ing and information dumping and steamrolling over people. (Click here to find out where to send them so they can learn how to give advice less obtrusively!)
THE SWEET SPOT OF GIVING (AND TAKING) ADVICE
Beware your Agenda! What’s your deal here? Is this about them or you? Is your ego being silly? All good questions to check in with before advice-ing
Offer Ideas Instead: Reframing advice as ideas to offer another person means it’s okay for them to take it or leave it or tweak it. It’s not personal - It’s just ideas! It’s important that no one feels obligated to the other.
Listen with your ears, eyes and heart. Pay attention to the non-verbal reactions you’re getting and pay attention to your own reactions. It's normal for resistance to show up when we feel like someone is bossing us around - in that state, we can’t hear a good idea if it kicked us in the ear. It’s also normal to be bummed out if someone doesn’t take up your advice. Learning to be okay with that is important
Get Consent! “Well if you want my advice” should ideally come after someone asks you for your advice. If you’re asking for advice from someone, they might not be in the mood, feel capable or even have the time. Or maybe they are hangry, in which case just get them a snack and then ask for advice. “Would you like my advice?” and “Can I ask you for some advice?” are great places to start!
Stop with “Should”: Drop the word “should” from your vocabulary. Trying saying “I could'' or “would you consider…?” as less bossy-pants ways to advise others. When we are hearing advice, it’s easy to start should-ing all over ourselves, which usually results in a way-too-long of things to do or try, and a little rain cloud of guilt hanging over us for not having done those things already.
Takeaway: Advice doesn't need to be a dirty word. Sometimes advice can be really terrible, and sometimes it is amazing and just what we need. Everyone - including Life Coaches, askholes, UAGs, regular ol’ people on Facebook, etc - can learn to have a better relationship with the concept of advice so we can help each other more and annoy each other less :)