I find withholding advice like trying to hold my breath for five minutes, although I have never died from holding in advice. How do you help another person make a decision without just blatantly telling them what to do?
There are some bad side-effects to making people’s decisions for them. One is that if things don’t turn out well for them, you sort of share the blame. Another is that, while it may make you feel good for coming up with a solution to their dilemma, you are actually taking away from them the good feeling they would experience if they’d thought of what to do themselves. A third is that our idea may not be possible for them due to a number of realities – their maturity level, their environment, their financial situaton, their personality, etc. If we make suggestions that they cannot carry out, it may just make them feel more helpless.
It is especially difficult to withhold advice when it looks like your friend is actually making a dangerous decision. Rather than give the advice burning inside me, I sometimes ask questions to help them think ahead, like “What do you hope to accomplish?” or “What do you think might happen if you do that?”
Sometimes I think we have to let go and let people make mistakes. Making mistakes is part of learning, maybe the best way to learn short of causing serious harm.
When a friend is in a situation that I was once myself in, I find it a good idea to talk about myself. “That happened to me once and it sucked.” Often the person will actually ask what I did. But even if they don’t, I can still tell them what I did and what the outcome was. If the outcome was bad, my experience can serve as a warning of sorts. Unlike those warnings we give our children (put your coat on or you will catch a cold), when we share from our experience, at least one person, namely you, really did suffer the undesirable consequence. If the outcome of my decision was good, that can be helpful to them also. We have to be careful that they understand, however, that just because we experienced a particular outcome, their outcome may be different.
I am actually getting better at this skill. Now I just have to hold my breath for four minutes.