Beyond Advice

“All advice can only be a product of the man who gives it.” ~ Hunter S. Thompson

“Seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise.”  JRR Tolkien

What’s up with advice?  Why the caution and how does it relate to boundaries?

(What began as a look at advice as it relates to setting healthy boundaries, and a clarification of graces for my Healthy Boundaries For Kind People group on Facebook, has morphed into a post.  The HBFKP group is a free offering of mine, with daily tips, perspectives and support, through the end of the year.  You're welcome to join.)

I'm not a big believer that our Facebook or other social media posts are evidence of unbridled narcissism and acts for attention as is often smugly thrown about.  There is a whole lot of connection going on online and huge potential for the power of being witnessed. As more people find their footing in vulnerability, sharing our challenges, where we're at with something, or any other "very human" experience is becoming more common and with social media.  Yet, a Facebook status sharing a challenge is often met with remedies of eager folks, offering their solutions.  The power of being witnessed is lost in a sea of well-meaning solutions, but none of them one’s own.  We have the opportunity to meet a "very human" status update with empathy, kindness, and compassion.

I believe, more than advice we want someone believes in us.

My friend, Magda Pecsenye who runs the incredible parenting website "Ask Moxie", (which if there were a Nobel Prize for someone who supports new parents, she'd be the winner) wrote in our HBFKP group,

"I write an advice column. People come to me specifically asking for advice. But what they really actually want is to be told that they're doing a great job. And that there's possibility."  

This is brilliant and wise. And true.

I draw clear boundaries around advice-giving in the online communities and forums I run, to respect and protect the boundaries of all involved.  This is not an uncommon grace or practice while working with a coach, especially in community. I don’t believe that giving unsolicited advice is tragic… but something is lost: witnessing; feeling hear, seen and accepted as you are.  

Witnessing is the great untapped power of the online world.  Witnessing anywhere, is transformative.

Let me be clear, I think advice by and large comes from a place of good intentions and out of a desire to help.  Kind people  want to be kind.  Kind people certainly want to help.  Helpers want to make it better and to fix things.  And in my vocation, I often see new coaches chomping at the bit to share their wisdom, support and like I probably once did, to prove their mettle and clout.

I'll be the first to say it, I've been grateful for much of the advice I've had along the way.  Sought and solicited advice is wanted advice.  We pay experts for their knowledge and we turn to trusted friends and mentors for their wisdom.  Even that should be given, and considered with care and caution.  It's important to look at what advice does and what changes for the recipient as a result of it.

Advice can trample boundaries.  Unsolicited, it can impede and become a heavy coat of shoulds, when we were actually trying to shed a layer, unload our burden and come up for air.  Advice can also interrupt the experience we need to have or process, in order to get to the other side.

There is power in being witnessed.  Being seen and heard is often what is needed to figure out your own best way.

Let me offer an example.  Do you want the unsolicited opinion of someone else?  Advice can feel like that.  We can support people in honoring our boundaries, by asking to ‘just be heard’, of if you’d like some guidance, ask for their reflections.  It’s a knee-jerk response for us to offer advice and setting the stage so you get what you need and honoring the kindness that others want to offer, can be very helpful.

I believe rather than advice, we’re looking for soft place to land and belief in that we're going to be ok.  Empathy, compassion and kindness are, in my belief, what can change the world.  Anyone who has experienced this knows what I mean.  Kindness has been an oxygen mask to me in times I was suffocating from shame.  In empathy, compassion and kindness, we are given the elements of someone believing in us.  And like when oxygen, fuel and air come together, we are warmed in comfort and lit in spirit.

The power of witnessing is tremendous and holds the person being witnessed as whole.  When we are witnessed we feel heard, we become resilient, we abolish shame, we excavate our truth and with that, we often see our path forward.If you’re accustomed to offering advice, this can feel really unnatural.

An experiment:  the next time, or two, you feel compelled to give advice (that was not sought) see what letting that person know you believe in them, does.  And you can support in other ways by asking open-ended questions, sharing reflections, or sharing your personal stories.

Is this always true?  No.  There are times when someone will need our help in a different, and a more commanding way.  We have so much to learn from each other and all have stories that need to be told.  The framework of empathy, compassion and kindness, is a framework to honor all of the healthy boundaries of each other, in the community.

How do the opinions or unsolicited (and sometimes even the solicited) advice of others affect you? Want more truth, depth and beauty from Randi?  Sign up here for notes of truth and beauty.