The Human Advice Complex

9 Jan

Over my Christmas vacation I was talking with my parents about some of my goals and hopes for the future. The conversation turned to my career. Somewhere during this conversation, our communication broke down. I was trying to tell them my plans for the future and they were trying to give me some guidance. The conversation really broke down when my dad just kept repeatedly saying “you don’t listen to me.” His frustration was obvious.

Unfortunately this is where our conversation ended. I wasn’t willing to then try and listen to him, which caused more frustration from him. Here’s what I didn’t say and should have: “you don’t listen to me” was a favorite phrase of my ex. ¬†He liked to utilize it often. He used it at the most inopportune times. Rather than offering a shoulder to cry on. Rather than expressing empathy. Rather than just being there for me with his support. The immediate response was always “you don’t listen to me.” Hearing these words from my dad in exactly the same tone made me snap. Well that was part of it.

The other part? Who in the hell asked you for your opinion in the first place?!

This happens to the best of us. There’s something about us that makes us immediately want to step in and start offering advice without even taking the time to listen first or ask if the advice is wanted. It’s just ingrained in our human DNA. According to research on the subject, men are especially susceptible to falling into this behavior. One of the things I remember most from reading John Gray’s book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus is how differently the sexes handle difficult situations. Men always want to fix things.Thus, the advice complex. They just can’t seem to help themselves. Vent to them about an issue and they will immediately begin to tell you all of the ways the issue could be fixed or what they would do in that situation. They are just dying to give you the one solution that will make everything in your life great. While men are particularly guilty of this no-no, we are not all so innocent.

When a friend is crying to you about her latest setback, how many of us have jumped right in with all of the ways to make her life better? She wants a sympathetic ear and in our haste to make our friend feel better we start right on in with the unsolicited advice. It’s the human advice complex.

There is definitely a time and place for it, but here’s our challenge…
Next time we are lending an ear to a friend, take time to really listen. Slow down and see what it is she needs first. Does she want your advice? Or does she just need a shoulder to cry on? A sympathetic ear? Try to avoid the instinct to jump right in with advice. Above all, if you do give advice and your friend doesn’t take it, then never ever say “you don’t listen to me.” Ever. Even if she falls flat on her face. Is now really the time to imply that you are all-knowing and if only she had listened to you then her life would be perfect? Doubt it.

And just one more thing on the flip side…
I don’t believe that my dad was trying to make me feel this way. Same for other friends who care about me. Next time this happens I will try to pause and remember that it’s only out of love that they are offering their advice. After a pause, I will politely ask them to just listen rather than give their advice. When I’m ready for it, I’ll ask for their advice and take it to heart. Then ultimately I will choose if I want to follow the advice or not. But I will be listening.

That’s certainly enough to ponder for now and I have to go call my dad,



One Response to “The Human Advice Complex”

  1. Jerry Ramsey January 9, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    Okay, I now get it. Love you tons. Pops

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