How to give helpful advice

Most of us have probably had that friend who is stuck in a bad relationship, employment, or debt. We’ve tried to help them and suggested that they just get out, find a different man or a woman, get a new job, leave everything behind and go backpacking across Asia for a year. We tell them what we would do if we were in their place. They appear to listen and find comfort in our advice, yet when it comes to it, they end up doing nothing. Sometimes they arrive at the same conclusion, though only after months or years of putting themselves through pain and suffering. So how can we become more effective, not at changing our friend’s lives, but at helping them find a way out of their suffering?

1. Ask, ask, then ask some more
It is natural to want to get rid of the distress others may feel. As such, we can find our selves jumping in too quickly with suggestions without fully understating the situation. Getting the other person to fully explain the issue not only helps us get a grip on what the problem is, but gives them a sense of being heard and understood. That in it self can be enough.

So just ask… what is the problem? What keeps them stuck? Why hasn’t anything changed? What have they already tried? How would they like us to help? Would they like things to change and how?

2. Listen
Often the best advice is the one that the other person gives themselves. To be able to get to that point, they need someone who will be their sounding board and will listen to their thoughts and ideas. Notice if you are wanting to jump in with suggestions and just press the pause button and listen.

3. Gaze into the future
We may want to help our friend change the situation they find themselves in. But what if they don’t? The answer to this question may be just what is needed for them to take that first step towards change. So ask your friend… what would it be like to find yourself in the same position five years down the line? The answer may be just enough to kick start the process of change. Alternatively, they may be ok with not having changed anything. In that case, you will both realise that you don’t need to spend time fixing a problem that does not need to be fixed.

4. Find the obstacles
Many of us face difficulties which we struggle to do anything about because of the obstacles that stand in our way. Maybe we are in a job that is too stressful or not fulfilling enough, yet we can’t afford just to quit there and then. The relationship we are in may not be perfect, but our fear of not finding anyone else may make us want to stick it out. Realising what is standing in the way of change may help us find the right solutions to the problem. So again take the time to really understand the problem and ask why hasn’t your friend been able to find a way out of the difficult situation?

5. Remind them of their resilience
We must remember that just like us, our friends have their own arsenal of tools when it comes to coping with difficulties. Sometimes all they need is a reminder that they have coped with tough situations in the past and therefore can overcome also their current problems. Remind your friends of any similar situations they have faced in the past and how they have dealt with them back then. It may be that they will draw on similar strategies also this time around.


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