When it comes to other people’s problems we are really good at giving advice, and we love to do it.
While we might be the best advice giver in the world, most of the time, people don’t really want it. On some level, they may already know what they need to do, but they’re not ready. And, generally speaking, people just don’t like being told what to do.
And yet, it’s so tempting to want to give advice to a friend who’s making one bad decision after another, harming themselves and those around them.
Right Gift, Right Time
While I believe our hearts are in the right place, before we give any advice we should ask ourselves, “Is this the right gift, and is it the right time?”
This question can give us a moment to pause and think about whether the other person is ready to hear this or not, and if they are is it the right time?
In the midst of a friend’s rant about everything that’s wrong in their life, giving them some advice while they’re angry probably isn’t what’s best for them.
And they won’t hear it anyway.
At that moment they are too busy looking for evidence to support their anger, and how the world is so unfair.
An angry person is not rational – they are emotional and defensive. They are more likely to see your advice as threatening instead of a pathway to end their pain.
Maybe the best gift at that moment is to simply listen to them, offer a few kind words of support. Let them know you hear them, and they aren’t alone. That might be the right gift at that time.
By pausing to ask ourselves, right gift, right time? it can make all the difference in how we are there for another person, with the right gift that they need at that time.
The biggest mistake we make is giving people advice when it’s not the right time.
It’s so easy to point out to someone where they are going wrong, believing we are fixing their problems when in reality that advice is falling on deaf ears.
While timing is everything, we also need to make sure we give it to them in a way that’s appropriate for them.
With some people, being direct is best. This person trusts you, they value your opinion and they’ll listen to you.
It’s great when you have this kind of relationship with another person.
But there’s an even greater gift we often don’t think about.
The gift of helping them see for themselves what they need to do.
In this way, we ask questions, give pointers, little nudges, and the critical ingredient space for them to realize on their own what they need to do.
This doesn’t happen on your schedule, it happens on theirs.
The Neurological Difference of Being Told versus Discovering
When someone gives you good advice, while you might agree wholeheartedly with everything they are saying, maybe you’re even thrilled at this revelation, it is no match for discovering it for yourself.
Hearing good advice and discovering it for yourself, have dramatically different effects on your brain.
While you may not jump out of the bathtub and run down the street naked screaming Eureka! – the effect is similar.
With the insight of seeing the solution so suddenly, you experience a burst of gamma brain waves – high-frequency brain waves that are processing information at an exceptionally fast rate, rapidly increasing the number of neural connections that are associated with this particular insight.
It’s like pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz. It’s hard to go back and pretend he’s a great wizard after you’ve seen with your own eyes he’s not.
Gamma brain waves fast track your brain to hold onto this revelation.
In addition, with this kind of self-discovery, there’s a burst of “feel-good” neurochemicals, including dopamine, which ramps up your motivation, focus, and energy.
You feel alert and clearheaded – even slightly euphoric.
Your brain is giving you everything you need to follow through.
We can tell people all day long what they need to do, but allowing them to discover for themselves, while still helping them along, is often the greatest gift.
It’s definitely not the easiest option for us, because we so desperately want to “fix” everyone, and we kind of like telling people what to do.
This isn’t about us, it’s about them.
Pausing to ask ourselves, right gift, right time? gives us just enough space to consider the answer and make the right choice. Whether that choice is to not give advice at all or to do it but wait for the right time, to be direct, or try to help them see for themselves what they need to do (the greatest gift of all!).
If we’re going to give a gift, let’s make it the right gift.