Before You Give Advice Consider This
I am sure that we have all been guilty of and the recipient of advice that hurts. It may hurt for different reasons. Perhaps it hurt because it was true and you were not ready to deal with the truth. Maybe it hurt because it completely disregarded or misconstrued the effort you have put forth in addressing an issue. It felt accusatory.
Or it hurt because the person giving advice had no idea how you felt. Their disconnect made you feel isolated or even more alone in dealing with the issue. Whatever the situation may be, the truth remains: advice is not always helpful. In fact, it can be quite devastating.
Don’t Be Like Job’s Friends
I have come to realize that giving advice is risky business. You don’t want to end up like Job’s friends in the eponymous book of the Bible. After Job experienced utter devastation with the death of his children, the loss of wealth and being physically afflicted, his friends only rubbed salt into his already painful wounds.
Initially, they sat silently and mourned with him for seven days and nights. (Job 2:11-13). But as time passed and the suffering did not cease, they could not comprehend the persistent devastation. Utilizing their limited understanding of the world, they accused Job of a secret wrong, suggesting that his calamity was the result of his sin.
Their advice was that he repent so that he could be relieved of his suffering. Job, while not a perfect man, was not being punished for bad behavior. Their advice was accusatory, misplaced and just wrong. In the end, they only added to their friend’s suffering. They meant well and they thought they were right. But in the end they were painfully wrong.
Be Slow To Speak
If you are anything like me, when you see someone with an issue, you want to help him or her in any capacity, similar to how Job’s friends wanted to help. Instinctively I begin offering possible solutions and lessons I have learned that I believe are applicable. I mean well. I promise I do! But as the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
In my haste to “fix” and “heal” someone, at times I fail to fully listen to the person and hear what he or she actually wants from me. People do not always clearly articulate their needs because they are not always clear on what their need is. In other instances, people may simply want to vent, process or express themselves. They are not looking for me to analyze and solve whatever I perceive to be the issue.
I have found that those moments when I am being more hurtful than helpful come when I am too quick to speak by offering my opinion on the issue and the solution instead of implying listening. Similarly, the most hurtful advice I received came when it was unsolicited.
Be Quick To Hear
Although advice can be hurtful, I do not want to make you paranoid about giving advice to anyone else. Nor do I want to demonize advice because it is a necessary part of the learning process.
Instead, what I want to point out is that advice, like all good things, has the potential to be misused, whether intentionally or not. Therefore, we ought to be very careful and exercise wisdom when we feel the urge to provide it.
An important part of exercising wisdom is first listening to what the person is saying. Sometimes listening may be all they want and need from you. There are moments in life when people need to express themselves, and any feedback may be seen as diminishing their feelings or their issue. You, and I, must learn how to perceive when we are called to sit silently with people and when to offer words of comfort, wisdom and even rebuke.
Conversely, we must also listen so that we can recognize when a person only wants to complain and does not actually want to improve; such a person will scorn any advice and play the victim. Ultimately, I think the matter comes down to using wisdom and discernment.
Unfortunately, we will not always get it right, but if we are at least cognizant of the tremendous impact our advice can have, then perhaps we will not wield it carelessly.