170. Some Good Advice

Advice is a touchy subject. In this paragraph, I’m going to give you advice that I think is phrased ineffectively, and in the next paragraph, I’ll try phrasing it better. Here goes: don’t tell people what you think they should do. When you tell people what you think they should do, you’re casting yourself in the wrong kind of role. You’re coming too close to trying to make a decision for a person. People would rather make their own decisions. And they’re much more invested in the eventual success of a venture if they own it.
What I’ve found effective is letting people in on my own experience. Sometimes I may have the other kind of advice somewhere in the back of my mind, but I’ve found that the back of my mind is a good place for it. People who hear about my own experience can choose whether or not to use it in making their own decisions.
When you give advice to children or other people for whom you may be an authority figure, it’s useful to make sure, ahead of time, that you really mean it as advice, and not as a command. People are free to ignore advice, or at least not to follow it. If you act hurt when they don’t follow it, you may succeed in eliciting guilt – maybe even enough guilt to change minds. If you show anger, or even change the advice into a command, it’s a little like breaking a promise; if it was really advice, people ought to be free to use it as such. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you” should be a neutral piece of information, not a threat. And guilt should have nothing to do with advice.
There’s a place for forbidding, or insisting. We all have limits. There are things we will not allow our children or others to do, and things they must do if they want to get along with us. All I’m saying is that I’ve found it useful to get my limits straight before I speak, and only phrase something as advice if I’m ready to have it ignored, or at least not used.
I never thought I’d say this, but the authority role, used well, can actually be helpful. I spent an awful lot of my life overtly and covertly rebelling against authority. I saw authorities only as people who wouldn’t let me be myself. And that’s what a lot of them were. But authorities can be people who have had lots of experience, and if I’m allowed to learn about that
experience without having it automatically supercede my own thinking and experience, it can be a treasure. Once in a while, someone may ask, “What do you think I should do?” When that happens, and I have an answer, I try to phrase it as only my own thought, not as a directive. Well, that’s the kind of thinking that works for me, anyway. You decide what works for you.

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