The Drama of Giving Advice
A young man was troubled that his wife was in a toxic relationship with a co-worker and wanted to be helpful by offering advice.
He sought the wisdom of his grandmother, who was retired as the executive director of a large non-profit organization. He described the situation and then asked her, “Grandmother, I have some ideas and advice to give her, but what would you advise I say or do?”
She responded, “My dear boy, I rarely offer advice. But in this case, the advice I’d give you is to not give advice,” his grandmother smiled.
Oh, the wisdom of grandmothers! Very likely she learned in her lifetime that giving advice can be tricky for relationships. Has someone given you advice that you didn’t ask for? Of course! And how did it feel? You probably didn’t like receiving uninvited advice.
Have you given advice to someone that they didn’t request? The answer is probably yes, and most likely you didn’t realize the unintended consequences.
Advice giving is almost always well-intended, but it can quickly send you into the Dreaded Drama Triangle and its roles of Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer. Often it is the Rescuer who wants to give helpful advice and starts with statements like: “You need to…” or “Why don’t you just…” and, most often, “You should…”
When in the Rescuer role, advice is given to change or fix someone else. This often backfires in the relationship, especially if the advice was not specifically asked for. Instead of being seen as supportive and helpful, the person receiving the advice may feel like a Victim. If that happens, their likely response is to push back and reject the advice, which causes the other person to feel Persecuted. At which point the Rescuer feels like a Victim for being reacted to as if they are a Persecutor, which is how quickly drama roles can shift!
There are other ways in which advice-giving can produce drama in relationships:
- It subtly conveys to the other person that they don’t have the resources or capability to make their own decision, which places them in the Victim role.
- It constricts exploration of alternatives, thus stifling learning and growth.
- It presumes that the advice-giver knows the whole story of what the other is facing.
- It assumes that the actions the advice-giver would take themselves would work for the other and that they know the “right answer.”
If someone seeks your advice, there are ways to communicate support by responding as a Creator, Challenger, or Coach from within TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)®. Here are a few ideas:
- Begin by seeing the Creator essence in the other person and that they are ultimately capable to make their own choices.
- Listen to them deeply so they feel heard, seen, and respected. You do this by mirroring back to them what you heard without projecting your interpretation of their situation.
- Step into the Coach role by creating a safe space for them to cultivate their own wisdom and best approach.
- When appropriate, support them as a Challenger. Your language might sound like: “I want to check out what I seem to be hearing. Is that what you are seeing?”
- Feel free to share stories from your experiences that might provide additional perspective, without offering them as suggestions. Remember what has worked for you may not be what works for them.
The young man’s grandmother shared her experience that advice-giving may constrict possibilities and lead to relationship drama. If you share your stories, ideas, and experiences, always hold the other person as a Creator and know that they may choose—or not choose—to take your advice.