Have you ever gone to a friend to talk because you were upset, and instead of actively listening, she starts offering unsolicited advice about what you should do? Does that interaction make you feel supported and heard, or are you left feeling robbed of the space to problem solve that you were actually seeking?

Are you guilty of giving unasked-for advice or criticism?

When someone comes to you in pain, if you immediately start offering solutions rather than listening and holding space as a caring witness, you are doing your pal a disservice. We reactively give advice because it makes US feel better. Your friend’s distress causes you discomfort, so you want to help or fix it. And although doing that may lessen your discomfort, it really does not help your friend.

So much of the time, our friends and loved ones would actually just like us to hold space for them to figure it out on their own. Empathically listening will accomplish your desire to ease your pal’s suffering much more effectively than trying to make her decisions for her.

When I first started dating my husband, Victor, he was a fixer. His assumption that I needed him to figure out my problem actually offended my sense of independence. Like, seriously, dude, I have been on my own and had two successful careers and an entire life before I even met you, my ego would scream! Fifteen years and many conversations later, we have an understanding of how to truly support each other around problem solving.

Simply asking the question, “How can I best support you right now?” takes all of the guessing out of the equation, saving time and frustration.

When I want to brainstorm a problem he knows, I am seeking his opinion. When I am simply in pain and have not asked for his advice, he knows I want him to witness and care about my pain and soothe me in some way. The trick is becoming mindful enough to stop and ask the question.

According to my pal and mentor, Russell Freidman from the Grief Recovery Institute, giving unasked-for advice or criticism robs the other person of their dignity.

And since I know you don’t want to be a dignity robber, I have a challenge for you. This week, every time you start to dole out unsolicited advice, catch yourself, and stop. And then simply ask the magic question and see what shifts.

Know that bringing awareness to habitual limiting behavior is the first step to transforming it.

Your relationships are worth the time and effort!

I hope you have an amazing week and, as always, take care of you.

Love Love Love,

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  1. This has been an eye opener for me. Something in me always wants to FIX, and I didn’t realize I could actually be alienating the people I love. I just hate to see anyone in my life in pain or confusion.
    I am rather confused though. Isn’t that WHY most friends or family talk about their problems? With hope of getting someone else’s view or advice? What about the 16yr olf niece or the 19 yr old niece & nephew who come to me?
    From now on, I’ll ask first !

  2. Very timely for me. Really resonated with me. I am absolutely guilty of this “practice.” When I thought I was holding space for them, being present, clearly I was not. Glad to see the “other side” and a better way to approach this kind of situation. Thank you, Terri!

  3. I agree what you said. Still, if somebody would give me a solution when I am desperate, I would appreciate it and would start to think my problem from a new point of view.

  4. The “unsolicited advice about what you should do” doesn’t bother me so much – I can refocus someone who does that. What I can’t tolerate well is the “I have a worse story than you….. and that is why you should feel bad for me.’ So I tend to tag them as energy vampires and will sometimes duck N run to avoid them when needed.

    1. Been there Adele ! It’s amazing how you can literally FEEL your worth to this person, and the energy just sinking throughout your whole body !

  5. Terri, as always you inspire me to be better. Thank you. In this situation, for me, it is different. I’m usually the listener, although I do dole out advice. I’m usually the one who goes to my friend for comfort expecting that she will just listen but most of the time she doles out her words to me. I have known her since junior high. So we have history. It’s hard to stay silent when she comes to me with pain. But I do my best to offer words of encouragement, instead of advice. I think that might be what you mean.

  6. Hmm…… I never looked at it that way! For me I guess I’ve always been a fixer, I fix peoples problems for a living. It doesn’t seem like I’ve been doing the correct thing by applying my skills on the situations my family and friends bring to me. The question you pose corrects that but still gives me the opportunity to help support them with what they need.

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