We’ve mentioned several times here that giving advice is not the same as truly listening. What’s so wrong about trying to help people solve their problems? Let us count the ways that giving advice interferes with listening.
First of all, while you are busy thinking up a solution, you stop hearing the rest of the story. You may think you know what is troubling someone based on a few minutes of conversation, but few people launch into the real issue right away. They tend to talk around what’s really going on at first. Supportive listeners give speakers the time and space to uncover their true concerns by putting them into words.
Second, any advice can only come from your own experience. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Just because you think you know what you would do or feel or think about a situation doesn’t mean that would work for anyone else. It’s up to each of us to determine what is right for ourselves, and supportive listeners can be there while we search for our personal truth.
Third, if your advice is rejected, emotion is injected into the conversation. You can feel hurt, since you were only trying to help, after all. The speaker can feel angry, because you obviously didn’t understand what they were really trying to say, or guilty, because they know they won’t – or can’t — take your well-meaning directions. Advice can as often as not lead to arguments, or worse, a total end to talking about anything. Supportive listeners keep the conversation going by keeping their own emotions out of the equation, letting speakers explore their own feelings freely.
The temptation to fix other people’s problems is powerful. Resisting it can be powerfully rewarding, for both the speaker and the listener.