Whatever you do – never take my advice
Wise old bird was Cicero. Poet, philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator …. his talents were manifold. Although he did come to a rather untimely end, executed by Mark Antony and then his hands and head displayed in the Roman Forum. Were I ever to give advice, perhaps choose your enemies carefully might be worth heeding!
If you google the word “advice” you will be presented with a long list of organisations which can offer advice on a range of subjects. There is indeed a place for such institutions as the Citizens Advice Bureau or Money Advice, and I suspect that few of us would want to enter into litigation without legal advice. But the distinction there is professional advice as opposed to the personal variety. It is the latter which I believe you should neither seek nor offer.
Some time ago I was on a training course and the subject of whether or not to give advice was raised. The facilitator told the following story:
Your closest friend has a big birthday coming up, she has hinted that what she really wants is to have a song written for her performed at her party. You arrange for personal song to be written and performed by a professional band. At the last minute the band cancels. The only option is for you to stand up and sing the song yourself. How comfortable do you feel now?
She asked everybody who felt way outside their comfort zone to stand at the back of the room, those who weren’t happy but could manage to stand at the other end and those who really couldn’t care less to stay in their seats. There were three of us in our seats and two of us had once been professional performers. Most people were gathered in a slightly hysterical group at the back of the room.
She approached the people at the back of the room and pointed at me and said “watch her shoulders”. To me she asked “how do you feel right now?” I shrugged my shoulders and said fine. She asked the group “how do you feel about her?” The general consensus was that they hated me.
Returning to me she asked what advice I would give the group at the back. I said that they should just go for it, what was the worst that could happen? The hysteria level rose noticeably and I probably moved onto the active death wish list.
The point was that I was coming from a very different place. I had no fear of performing in public so my advice was not really for them but for me. For them the advice was worse than useless, it actually made it worse. In asking them what was the worst that could happen I was giving them the opportunity to actually identify all the terrible things that could happen if they had to stand up and sing that song.
When we offer advice we do so with good intentions (well mostly). We genuinely want to help the other person. However, we cannot understand where the other person is coming from. However well we know them, know their fears and anxieties we cannot ever be that person and know precisely what buttons we are pressing when we speak from our own perspective. For that is what advice is, it is the knowledge learned from our own experience and that experience is not their experience.
So I offer support but I do not offer advice. And if I have – I apologise