Up until this point, I’ve always hated giving advice. When asked for my opinion from friends and family on the choices they were making, I often took the non-committal route of redirecting questions back to them and avoided making a recommendation on what they should or shouldn’t do.
Being someone who looks inward instead of outward for the answers to my problems, I believed it was best to give the conservative response of “you should do what feels right” or “follow your heart.”
This came from a place of doubt and fear. I felt unqualified. Why should my opinion matter on this or that topic and how could I really be sure that what I told others was the right thing for them to do. I feared that my advice would lead them in the wrong direction and couldn’t live with the responsibility of having somebody make a mistake based on what I had told them.
These fears came up this week when I was asked by a younger friend of mine for advice on what courses he should take come next school year.
Having been in his place just a few years back, I asked him a few questions including what his desired outcome was, what reservations he was having and what thoughts had come to him so far. I listened to what he had to say and told him what I thought he should do based on my experiences and what others had told me. I didn’t think much of it.
It was when he mentioned something about hoping to get the same grades as I did that I felt a great deal of responsibility. I realised that being someone who had done well in school, my words would likely weigh heavily on his decision. It scared me.
I thought of the people in my life who I looked up to and how everything they told me felt like sacred wisdom. Knowing that I could have the same effect on somebody else, I came away worrying that I had said the wrong thing.
Having time to think on the walk home, I thought back to how choices in my own life were influenced by the (sometimes not asked for) opinions of others and working through it all helped me come to this conclusion:
When giving advice, taking a hard stance risks having the receiver go off in the wrong direction but taking no stance only assures that they go off having gained nothing.
The conservative choice assures the chance of no significant negative outcomes but it does so at the expense of removing significant positive outcomes. This is the case with everything from business and investing to sports and relationships. Not asking your crush out assures that you don’t have to face the embarrassment of rejection. It also means removing the chance that you’ll be with the person you want to be with.
We add value to others’ lives by contributing a different perspective on the world. People look to those around them for advice because they want to escape the repetitive noise of their own thoughts and look at their problems through the eyes of another.
Of course, you shouldn’t give advice on something you know little to nothing about. Providing things like financial or medical advice should remain the responsibility of those who have some domain expertise and shouldn’t be taken lightly. But for most other things, your insights have value so long as you are (1) looking out and considering the best interests of the person seeking advice (2) explain where you’re coming from and (3) caveat the advice as an opinion to be weighed with many others and one’s own judgement.
Your words can help others see new insights, overlooked points and holes in their thinking. Whether or not they agree with what you tell them is up for them to decide. If they agree, they will have come away with a new answer to their problem and if they don’t, they’ll come away with a stronger conviction.
Don’t fear giving advice, fear not providing value to others.