“What Do You Think?”

I walked past two women in the store the other day and heard some terrible advice. I mean, it was cringeworthy. I’ll spare you the details, but I felt myself wanting to say something along the lines of, “I’m sorry, but please don’t do what she just said. Seriously, it’s a really bad idea.”

I couldn’t help but think to myself about the bad advice I had received (and given!) over the years, and I wondered why do we give such bad advice? I’m sure you have done it, but maybe you were spared the embarrassment of hearing about or even watching the person actually do what you told them. Not all of us are so lucky.

Helping or Hurting?

So, do we stop giving advice then? No, the answer is not to withhold all your opinions and advice, because you probably have some valuable things to say. The Bible tells us there is wisdom in seeking advice or counsel from others (Proverbs 11:14). Nor is the answer to be skittish, almost paralyzed from providing any help. I have met people like this and I feel bad for the position they have put themselves in. It’s often because of wrong beliefs or bad experiences like not feeling that they would really able to help, being burned by the reactions of people they gave advice to, by things going wrong when people listened, or unfortunately, just not really caring.

If you believe, like I do, that seeking advice and giving it is valuable and a necessity of life, here are some helpful things to keep in mind:

1. Really Listen First

So much of the problem in giving advice is that we are not listening. Many of us are easily distracted from what the person is saying. We hear part of it and then spout off advice without really having a grasp on the full picture.

We are a culture sold on the idea of multi-tasking, and now we are reaping the rewards—or better yet, the side effects of it. But you can’t effectively listen and be present while looking at a TV, using a computer, replying to a text on a phone, or really just about anything else.

Even without obvious distractions, listening takes effort and intentionality. Often, I’ll catch myself thinking about what I am going to say or rehearsing the best way to say it while the other person is still talking.

Remind yourself that your best position right now and the one that will be most helpful is not of elegant talker but active listener. Strive to really engage and be present.

2. Ask Questions

Even if you actively listen, the root of your friend’s problem may not immediately be apparent—you may have to ask for more details or information. All great counselors know the power of asking questions. Jesus was a great example of this, often asking the people he spoke with questions they would have to wrestle with. It is amazing the amount of clarity that can come by just asking someone questions about their feelings, reactions and thoughts.

3. Be A Soundboard

Allowing the person a safe place to say what’s on their mind can be the first and sometimes the best step toward helping. Simple tactics like repeating back what the person said can have a dramatic effect on the hearer.

I remember one day talking to my wife about a person who was really bothering me. This person had done some things that were questionable at best, and I felt very vindicated to point all these things out. She responded very simply by repeating back what I said as a question, and honestly, it sounded awful.

Hearing the things I was saying from someone else helped me get out of my emotional state. We all get emotional, especially when we are seeking out advice in a difficult situation. We can benefit from an outside perspective from someone not caught in the emotion. Sometimes, hearing something we are thinking said back to us from that outside source is enough to get some clarity.

4. Pray

Proverbs 2:6 says, “For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

Want to give good advice? Ask the one who has it! Make it a practice to pray every time you are in a conversation where you’re asked or given an opportunity to give advice or help. It can be just a quick prayer like, “God, help me have wise words to say and a heart to care for _______. Help me see what you want me to see and say what you want me to say.”

There have been times I have said things to people that I would very happily admit are much smarter than I am or could ever pretend to be, and I thank God for His wisdom in those moments.

5. Realize You Can’t Fix It

If you have done all of those things, I think you may be in a good position to give some advice. But alleviate some burden off your shoulders and repeat after me, “I do not have to fix it.”

Some of the worst advice I have given was under the pressure of thinking I either could or had to help fix the problem. It’s unfair and dangerous to put that weight on yourself, mainly because you really can’t fix anyone else’s problems. Advice is just that: wise counsel (hopefully) from someone who is able to possibly see things from a different perspective. Offer yours humbly, aware that you don’t know everything, but confident that you know the one who does.

This article was originally published at reforminglife.com