Want to help? Stop giving advice!

Yeah, you read that right. Stop giving advice. Particularly when a friend/family member/spouse/parent/child approaches you for help. Now, I don’t mean you should push them off the cliff or leave them hanging there. Don’t be stupid.

What I mean is this β€” almost 99% of the time people play games (unconsciously, of course!) which makes their intentions and motives not so obvious. Even to themselves! Because chances are they’re not looking for advice but want the attention, care and comfort of a parent from you. And that’s totally normal. You see, ego states greatly influence the way we think, feel and behave. Which means you can behave like a parent or a child or an adult under different circumstances.

Take a moment to reflect on this. You acted like a parent when you scolded your colleague/peer for screwing up that project again! And later (when you’d calmed down), you had an adult to adult (it does happen sometimes… I’m talking about sane people here) conversation with this person trying to understand what could’ve gone wrong, what can be done better and how can you help him/her succeed.

You drive back home and share the terrible incident you’ve had at the workplace and how these coworkers drive you crazy. Obviously, not looking for a solution (but you get one anyway, particularly if you’re talking to a “him”) but some empathy, comfort, and affection. Just like a child.

If that resonates with you, congratulations! You’ve just been exposed to one of the most fascinating aspects of human behavior β€” our ego states. It’s a compelling study of the little “games” that we play on a daily basis. Sure, you don’t have to pursue a doctorate in these “games.” Reading this post a couple of times will give you a certain idea. Or read this piece on Ego-state therapy and another one on Transactional Analysis.

Sorry, I digressed.

So, you get it. Not to give them advise. The best alternative in such a situation is to help them snap out of their child state and bring them into an adult state. Why? Because you can reason and rationalize the best with an adult. Not with a child. Never with a parent (come on, haven’t you tried changing them enough?).

How? Pretty simple. Ask them a question. It could be as simple as, “That’s a hard problem to solve. What do you think could be done?” And now we’re talking solutions, my friend.

If this sounds a bit like coaching. It is. To some extent. But for the large part, it’s about realigning the focus of a conversation. From being an unproductive, meaningless rant about the things you cannot do much about to a constructive and useful conversation focusing on solving a problem.