You don’t have to give advice

For years I’ve had a problem that I have always considered a huge character flaw.  Almost always, whenever I give someone advice they don’t act on it.  I get a fairly positive response to my advice from the person who “asked”, but it’s rarely ever acted upon.

I really like seeing other people become successful, so this is really difficult for me.  It’s at times incredibly hard not to take personally.  To this day I struggle with the idea that I have no ability to influence and empower others.

Of course, that’s not exactly true.  I’m better some days than others, certainly – but a lot of these situations I find myself in isn’t so much my response as it is recognizing the needs of others.

This past year I learned a fact that’s kind of cold – somewhat difficult to swallow.

Most people who are asking for your advice really only want to be validated.

Generally, I’m not so negative about other people – so this is kind of a hard pill to swallow.  But if I’m honest with myself, I find that I do this all the time.  For example:

Me: I really want to get in shape.  I think I’ll do X!  I’ll read up all about it, become an internet expert, and decide all the things I don’t want to do in order to get there.  I probably won’t even ask a guy who is ripped for advice, but in this scenario, I will!  Hey, guy who is ripped, what do you think of my plan?

Ripped dude: Well actually it’s fairly simple when you lay it all out.  You just need to eat healthily and lift regularly – heavier the better.  What I do is meal plan like XYZ and lift like ZYX.  That way I can fit it all in.  The meal stuff is kind of a pain, but you get used to it – getting results takes some sacrifice.  Most people spend so much time on Facebook that if they just killed that, they could do it.

Me: Ok yeah great awesome!  But man I get home and it’s so hard to make meals and… excuse excuse excuse…. look back on the internet, decide I can do this my way and easier.  Avoid ripped dude forever.

I hate these conversations.  I hate being on either end.  Both people know at the end of it – eventually if not immediately – that nothing’s going to change for me.

The problems

What am I actually asking for there?

Honestly?  A pat on the back.  Or something in that vein.  Which sucks to write.

Notice that I say I want something, and I don’t actually take any action.  If you want something and your first inclination is to go on the internet and learn about it for 24 hours before just starting – you’ve already failed.

The second big strike I see is I make a list of everything I don’t want to do.  The gym is too far away, so I pick something I can do at home.  Meals take too long to make, so I’ll get by with microwave dinners.  All of this I could theoretically pull off – but I promise you, I won’t.

A solution

The following is for the advice giver.

You’re never actually obligated to give anyone advice.

I’ll expand on that too…

If someone’s just complaining, they’re definitely not asking for your advice.

Is the above really true?  Yes.  Super true.  It’s also a huge saver of time and energy on both sides.  So what does this look like…?

Me: I’m out of shape, I’m going to ask the ripped guy over there for advice because I’m a scrawny pencil and don’t like it no more.  Hey, ripped dude!  Howsabout this plan I’ve got where I eat fruit and turkey sandwiches and throw around kettlebells?

Ripped dude: Well I might not do it exactly like that, but it sounds like you’ve got a good start.

Me: Oh yeah?!  Well, let me tell you all about what I found on the internet!

At this point, the ripped dude is free to tune me out and give me customary head nods and pat me on the head.

So is this okay?  I struggled with that question a lot.  If someone’s asking my advice I want to give it to them.  But I get crazy frustrated when it’s not being used.

The trick here is that I’m not actually asking for the guy’s advice.  I’m asking for his validation.  In this scenario, he’s giving it to me, and we happily go our separate ways.

Here’s a second scenario:

Me: Ugh, ripped guy I’m so scrawny and look like someone built a human out of toothpicks and attached a whoopie cushion for my stomach.  I wish I could look like you – but I’m so busy.  I say I’m always working but sometimes I’m in a loop where I’m just checking Twitter, Slack, and my email a lot.  I got off Facebook so I have moral high ground.  But seriously – I have no time for the gym.  But man it would be so awesome if I could look like you.

Again – normally this is where I would give advice back to the complaining person.  A good “you can totally do it!  I believe in you!” should be enough to encourage a person, right?  Wrong.

Here are two acceptable answers, depending on how much of a jerk you are:

Ripped guy: Well, it certainly takes hard work and dedication.

or

Ripped guy: Seriously right now?

If you’re nice, give the former.  If you’re like me, you might give out the latter.  Both are acceptable.

It’s okay to do this

This was really hard for me to learn.  Giving advice to those who don’t want it doesn’t actually help anyone.  Consider yourself free from it.  It will also help you learn who actually wants advice.  Two tricks on that…

  1. If they want real advice, they’ll present you a serious plan and say something along the lines of “I’m really serious about doing X this year by Y date”
  2. If they want real advice, they’ll probably come back if you don’t give it straight away the first time and instead lead out with “Are you serious about doing this, because if you’re not sure – I’d prefer you thought about it and came back when you’re certain you are.”

Hope you find this a little liberating.


Copyright 2016-2017, Adam T. Croft, all rights reserved.