Saturday, March 10, 2012

Unsolicited advice

Last Tuesday, I had breakfast with a close friend. I was talking to her about an insight I'd had, a sort of emotional conundrum, and when I paused to gather my thoughts, she said quickly, "What are you doing Friday?" and proceeded to recommend that I take a workshop she was planning to attend that would clearly solve my problem.

Her advice came from concern for me but it annoyed me nonetheless for I hadn't asked for it. And she hadn't asked if I wanted it. And I realized in my irritation, that just like her, I freely offer advice way too frequently without asking if it's welcome.

There is something gentler and less intrusive in asking "Would you like a suggestion?" than in assuming that what I have to offer is wanted or even needed. Too often I don't allow the person talking to just think out loud. And thinking out loud is not necessarily asking for help. The idea of a sounding board, I believe, is to come to our own solutions, to hear our problem or question something out loud, to consider possibilities (perhaps offered by another), and reach our own decision.

What I found with my friend is that I didn't want her solution. I just wanted her to listen, to be present for my conversation. And when she tried to fix it, I just shut down. It didn't feel safe any more to ruminate in her presence. And that made me sad.

A year or so ago, I broke with a good friend over her insistence that I listen to unsolicited comments about my behavior and how I could fix them. I don't know what she found offensive in what I was doing as I refused to accept her unsolicited advice and sadly that meant the end of the friendship. But telling others what's wrong with them (in AA, we call this "taking someone else's inventory") never does any good and I was not in an emotional place to want to hear her criticisms, especially if they were linked in her mind to the continuation of the relationship.

Last Tuesday's experience was a good reminder about my own behavior, about just listening. And not offering my ideas about your problem, which, of course, is so much easier to fix than my own.

1 comment:

Wilsonius said...

Sometimes I am in similar conversations and fight the urge (not always successfully) to drag my *self* to the party. And when I do, and after the fact, I realize that I have aggressed you, inflicted a type of violence. Whether or not you want it, I'm giving this advice/direction/opinion to you.
Now, it may be (though seldom is, of course) the most wonderful piece of advice you will ever hear in your life. But giving you what you've not asked for is akin to forcing you to eat cake whether or not you're hungry, or hungry for such as that.
The better friend (and I can be her, oftentimes) simply and richly bears witness, is empty and present, for you, the moment, the experience. And what a bouquet of gifts that is.