The healthy way to handle uninvited counsel from friends and family
The four simple, well-meaning words — if I were you — seem to preface most unsolicited advice from friends, parents, neighbors and even strangers. When that advice isn’t something the listener wants or needs to hear, it’s easy to grow resentful.
“Most people are not seeking advice from other people when they talk about personal struggles,” says Teresa Claeys, LCSW, with Lakeland Regional Behavioral and Addiction Medicine at Lakeland Regional Medical Center. “Often our primary goal in sharing our struggles is to seek validation and support.”
Listening to others and acknowledging their feelings, without offering a solution is often difficult, Claeys adds. “We offer advice due to our own discomfort and desire to help. When we are engaged in a conversation, we can choose to acknowledge the other person’s advice without agreeing with them.”
Often, those who care about us have a desire to help us solve our problems. For example, unloading relationship dilemmas on a friend undoubtedly will greet you with the advice “Well, if I were you, I would dump him immediately, if not sooner.”
However, instead of blowing off steam to a friend who is unaware of the complexities of your relationship, Claeys recommends telling the friend, “I hear what you are saying, thanks for listening to my struggles.”
Often times that person will rush to judgment based upon the few negative facts you convey. Also, that person might not be successful in his or her love life, and offer counsel that has more to do with their experiences.
Another common phrase of advice is “If I were you, I would get married.”
Many single people have that well-meaning relative who, like clockwork, offers up the same advice at every family gathering. “You are 36 and single,” Aunt Martha might say. “If I were you, I would really try to go on more dates.” And there you are, for the umpteenth time, listening to dating advice from someone who hasn’t been on a date in decades.
Rather than becoming resentful or frustrated with “Aunt Martha,” Claeys says to communicate honestly. “We can reduce our own resentment by communicating honestly and directly regarding our feelings,” she says.
A final area in which many people like to show their “expertise” is in the area of child-raising, with phrases like, “If I were you, I wouldn’t let my kid throw a tantrum like that.”
The scenario has happened to many parents: In the middle of a child’s wailing, another shopper walks by and rudely dispenses her parenting advice. With a screaming child and frayed nerves, even the most mild-mannered parent would be tempted to get angry. Despite the difficulty, Claeys says staying calm is key.
Don’t be afraid to tell the person that you have it under control, but also don’t be tempted to excuse a child’s erratic behavior — this comes off as making excuses. Show that you have control over the situation by exhibiting self-control in the face of unwanted advice, and take your child outside, if needed.
story by MATTHEW M. F. MILLER