When friends, family members or even customers open up to us, revealing some of their most intimate struggles and challenges, how should we view our role?
Tears surrounding wayward children, anxieties accompanying failing marriages and negotiating difficult personalities are just some of the stories we are presented to comment on. How should we proceed?
Those endowed with certain skill-sets may be capable of competently addressing the emotional challenges of others. But whether you have those skills or not there is one thing that you should never do; tell them what to do.
Reasons you shouldn’t tell people what to do
- By weighing in on the problem you have turned their problem into your problem.
- You seldom have the full picture of the problem. At best you have a singular perspective, which is either intentionally skewed to attract sympathy or unconsciously biased. It is irresponsible to give advice when you only know part of the problem.
- After dispensing advice, you seldom have to face the ramifications of that advice. The person who implements it has to deal with the consequences of your advice.
- You allow yourself to become the scape-goat when things go pear-shaped; “I followed their advice and look what happened.”
- You assume that you know what the answer is. Life’s challenges are usually complex, simple solutions seldom resolve them.
- Perhaps there is no correct answer, only options and consequences.
- You deny the person the opportunity to explore their options and choices, and the ramifications and consequences of those choices.
- By providing answers you may deceive you into thinking that you actually do have the solutions of the world’s problems.
- Perhaps your role is not to dispense wisdom, but to empathise. Sit with them and their pain rather than apart from it.
Constructive ways to support people in difficult situations
- Be inquisitive rather than judgemental
- Explore options and consequences
- Empower people to seek professional help if necessary
- Sit, listen and be empathic- sometimes people only need to be heard