Someone tells you about their problems, and you have an opinion. You want to tell them what they have to do, because you know and they don’t. There is something that they don’t want to hear but need to hear. How do you tell them? Eminent psychologist Carl Rogers has an answer. Hang in there.
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Hi I’m Nick Redmark, I’m a coach-in-training and a psychology nerd, and in this publication I go deep into how to find more meaning in life. If you want more meaning in your life, subscribe to my newsletter to keep updated.
How To Give Advice To Friends
So, how do you give advice to friends? It’s complicated. Carl Rogers, rated as the 6th most eminent psychologist by the American Psychological, formulated a revolutionary and highly influential approach to communication and psychotherapy.
For Carl Rogers, the components of deep communication (also see: How To Have Deep and Meaningful Conversations) are:
- Active listening
- Positive regard
- Authentic communication
Embedded in it we can find answer to our question.
1. Listening is better than telling
The first thing we can observe is that truly listening to your friend and helping them externalize what they think is going to be way more helpful than telling them what you think they should do. If their worldview is truly lacking in some form, chances are they will notice as soon as they have managed to fully articulate it, and there’s nothing that helps articulating your thoughts as someone who is actively listening to you without interfering in the process with their own judgments.
2. Self-trust is more important than information
The second observation is that positive regard, the sharing of felt appreciation bites itself at a deep level with the impulse to give advice. To be able to share your appreciation of the other person, you have to truly believe that in some deep sense they are enough, more precisely, that they have the inner resources to grow. Conversely, embedded in your eagerness to give advice there is the assumption that they are in some form lacking — why, otherwise, would they not want to hear your answer? If they only listened to you, that would compensate for their insufficiency!
What is it that makes you feel willing to change, to explore, to linger at the edges of your comfort zone? It’s when you can trust yourself. That you will figure it out. That you have it in you. That you will go your way and make your mistakes and that it is okay that way. So, when your friend tells you a problem they have, remind yourself that it is not helpful to see your friends as machines that need fixing (unless something fundamental is wrong, but maybe even then… Either way it wouldn’t be your responsibility to “fix” them but of someone that has a training and knows what interventions work).
Self-trust is more important than information (even though both are essential for survival) because without self-trust you won’t take responsibility for putting the information to best use in your life.
3. You can still be authentic!
The final observation is about authenticity. Something they are telling you is bothering you, you have a strong feeling that they should do something. How can you still be authentic about it? The best way is to take ownership of it. That judgment is something that you have because of who you are. You feel strongly about it because of your past experiences. You can share all that in a neutral way, as something that appears in the field of your consciousness. You can say: “While you were talking I started feeling this irritation. Thoughts like ‘he should do this and that’ came to my mind, I think it’s because in my past I saw this and that happen.” Implied in this formulation is the belief that your friend has the competence to integrate that information in their worldview in the most appropriate manner.
This is how you do it
This is how you give advice to friends: you don’t. What you do instead is you truly listen and help them articulate their thoughts about their situation, you display your appreciation and your belief in their capacity to grow, and you take ownership of your own judgments and feelings about the situation and share them as the raw manifestations in the mind of a friend who cares.
How have your communication experiences with friends in distress been in the past? Let me know in the comments!