Giving Advice: Image of a Dear Abby question and answer.

You Can’t Handle the Truth: Why You Should Think Twice Before Giving Advice

Dear Abby had it easy when it came to giving advice. She counseled strangers. From afar. She didn’t see or hear their fury, angst, and excuses when they disagreed with what she had to say.

Countless times over the years Tony Bear has shared his giving advice protocol with me.

“When people ask for my opinion, I say, ‘Do you want me to tell you the truth or what you want to hear?’”

Lots of people ask Tony’s opinion. Usually guys hoping to move up in the world of football officiating. Tony can watch a film of them officiating and instantly know ways they can improve. “Don’t back-peddle. Try to never get beat to the end-zone.” Or the thing no one wants to hear, “It would help if you lost at least 30 pounds.”

I’m finally learning to be slow at giving advice. But my wisdom came at a cost.

I lost a friend over it. Remember that blog post?

Before that fiasco, I fell out of relationship with a dear family member. Tony and I had the opportunity to spend an extended amount of time with this individual. Unfortunately, our time together featured a number of awkward and uncomfortable moments.

A week after he returned home, he emailed asking, “This trip wasn’t as wonderful as the last. Why not?”

Because he asked, because he seemed to truly want to know, I zipped off a few answers via email.

I was careful to utilize the “Sandwich Method.”

That’s “… where you squish criticism between compliments to smooth it over…”

In my email, I began and ended by telling him how much I love him and admired his willingness to discuss the situation. However, it seems he ripped off the two pieces of bread and only consumed the meat and cheese.

Let the record state, I also did my best to utilize “I statements,” where I focused on my thoughts and feelings about certain situations we experienced.

And then came his response. Hundreds of words, maybe thousands. Spears, really. Each dipped in technicolor vitriol.

I could only bring myself to read the first two paragraphs. Then I deleted his email. And because I didn’t want to be able to later find and finish his bitter response,  I went into my email trash bin and deleted the deleted email as well.

With tears washing my face, I called my husband.

“Forward his email to me,” he said.

“Can’t. I deleted it.”

“Forward the email you sent him.”

“Oh, Sunshine, I wish you’d shown me this before you sent it.”

Tony went on to explain how, even though I sandwiched my constructive criticism, even though I used I-statements, in his opinion, there was no way this individual could handle what I had to say.

“But he asked what went wrong, why things were so different this time.”

“True, but that doesn’t mean he actually wanted to know.”

Tony says there are a couple of reasons people won’t receive advice, even though they ask for it.

  • Most people want to believe they’re doing something the right way already. And yet, you don’t know what you don’t know until you learn what you don’t know.
  • Some people are scared to try a new way of doing something. What if they fail?
  • Some people are so prideful, they can’t imagine needing someone else’s advice.

This is why Tony always asks a person approaching him for counsel if they want to hear the truth or what they’re hoping to hear. He says there are actually people who request the latter.

“Promise me you’ll always run letters like this by me before you hit ‘send.’”

Since then, there have been a number of occasions where I’ve shown him potentially volatile letters and emails.

When I broke up with that one friend, I drafted an email to her, again, using “The Sandwich Method” of communication and I-statements.

Tony vetoed it. “Have this conversation in person. You don’t want anything in writing to come back and bite you in the butt. Not with her.”

I’ve written multiple letters to my mom when she exasperates me. Usually Tony says, “If it was me, I’d have this talk face-to-face.”

Other times he’s okayed my letters but I haven’t sent them.

Sometimes simply writing a letter to someone that you never intend to send helps a whole lot. It’s like tapping the black safety-valve gizmo rocking on a pressure cooker.

Whether you hit send on an email, or drop a letter into a mailbox old-school style, taking your time is always a good idea. Especially if the content is loaded.

Think about it. Sleep on it. Pray about it. Consider:

  1. What will happen if I DO send this?
  2. What will happen if I DON’T?

There is another reason to not say anything.

Often when people bring you their problem, they simply want you to listen. 

They don’t want to know what you would do. They don’t want you to fix their problem. A hug may be all they need. A murmured, “I’m very sorry you’re going through this. It must be so hard.”

In the Bible, James, the brother of Jesus, gave some great advice. He recommended we all should be “quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19).”

Not speaking the truth in love brushes every single one of my desire-to-help fibers the wrong way. However, I’ve come to realize Tony doesn’t have a small pile of broken relationships due to a rush-to-help tongue or pen. And I do.

And that is why I am learning (and sometimes forgetting and learning again) to just say no to dispensing Dear Abby wisdom.

What about you? Any thoughts on the subject? Please leave a comment so we can discuss!

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