Want to Help? Don’t Offer Advice Unless It’s Asked For.

Want to help? Don’t offer advice unless it’s asked for. Doesn’t that sound counter intuitive coming from a counselor? Well, not really. I know many people think that people go to counseling for advice.

That’s not what we do at all. What we actually do is help people get clear on their issues and values so that they can find the answers for themselves. This is more effective because it’s empowering.

If I tell you what to do, then you do it and it works, it teaches you to come to me for help when you don’t know what to do. If I tell you what to do and it doesn’t work, you blame me. Either way, you have no skin in the game, so you don’t really grow or learn. You just get out of jail free.

If I help you find your own solution, you grow, feel empowered, and get all the credit for the success or failure. Now you might not want credit for the failure, but remember that there is no such thing as failure, only feedback… as long as you keep trying and use that feedback to improve the next attempt.

Also, if I see you struggling and offer you advice, I am sending you the message that you’re incapable. That’s not what I want to do. I want you to have the experience of figuring things out so that you become confident in your skills. You do that by making enough mistakes until you become skillful.

If I take away your opportunity to learn, you may not grow. If I stop you from having your process, you may also resent me for presuming that you can’t do it. It’s a far greater gift to allow you to struggle. Wait for someone to ask for help, and then extend it. After all, they may have a better solution than I do since they know what works for them better than anyone.

Assuming someone needs your help automatically creates a hierarchy. You are the expert. The other person is the student. If you ask them whether they need help, you meet as equals throughout the process, whether they accept your help or not. If you sneak and impose your help on someone, that creates a debt. You’ve given something that now must be repaid. It’s generally repaid with resentment. No one wants an obligation.

I know we are taught to be helpful. We all value kindness. As with everything, there are effective ways to do things and ineffective ways. When your help is empowering, it’s truly helpful. When it’s not, it’s really not. If you are an effective helper, you will never get bogged down in a codependent relationship, will always be appreciated, and you will always remain equals. That’s a win/win.

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