As the second article in the series of TURNING A CORNER is a personal lesson in changing my “Got to help everyone” concept to “listen and allow them to handle their own life”. You will see an example of how others who seem like they want your advice but are looking for a kind ear. This doesn’t mean they will or will not appreciate your willingness to accept their ability to take care of their business.
Saturday Morning Thought: One of the lessons, and I must say it has been one of the hardest, I have learned is when someone talks to me they are not wanting me to solve their problems but wanting a willing ear to vent pain, frustrations and/or hurt they are going through. As a problem solver, it is a natural instinct for me to offer MY ideas of how I would handle a problem or situation. I have discovered MY ideas may not be the way they will figure out how to handle THEIR situation. It is difficult to stay quiet and listen but I am trying to listen more and offer advice less. I had a recent encounter with my daughter that has nothing to do with the lesson other than I listened to what she was saying. I love to cook but apparently try to micro-manage her while she is helping or preparing a dish. She reminded me she cooks all the time and it hit home. My Mom would micro-manage me when I went home and cooked and/or helped her and I laughed. Oh no, I remember thinking I have probably cooked a lot more than my Mom and she is still telling me how to cook. I never said anything to her but when I heard those words from my daughter (which I appreciated her talking to me), I LISTENED. We can listen; we can empathize; and we can trust that as we have figured out how to handle our problems; so can others…Posted by Arline Miller on FaceBook
I found a great article which is relevant to this subject. I feel many of you are sitting there recognizing the many times you offered advice which was either not taken or resented because you told it like it is. It may seem a virtue to be straightforward and it is in one sense of the word, but once you read this article by
Giving People Advice Rarely Works. This Does.
People love to tell you how to live your life, don’t they? There is no shortage of family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, businesses, and of course, magazines and websites offering plenty of guidance about what you should or shouldn’t do. Others want to tell you what or how you should (or shouldn’t) eat, drink, shop, vote, believe in (or not believe in), dress, exercise—you name it. But while everyone thinks that telling others what they should do will work, very few actually rely on the proven, research-based strategies that actually do typically result in behavior change.
Think about it for a moment: Has there ever been a conversation between a Democrat and a Republican, between a believer and a non-believer, between a meat-eater and a vegetarian, between a Fox News viewer and a MSNBC viewer, or between a Yankee fan and a Red Sox fan that ended with one saying, “You know what? You’re right! I’ll change right away!”
And honestly, while people encourage you to change your ways to accommodate their suggestions what are you privately thinking? Probably something like “Mind your own business!” or “Why don’t you leave me alone?” You might politely listen but privately most of us resent being told what to do and how to do it.
In a nutshell: Advice giving usually doesn’t work, and often completely backfires.
For example, it often makes me laugh when someone knocks on my door to engage in religious proselytizing. I happen to be an engaged Catholic, and my wife is an engaged Jew. Our respective families have been very active participants in our respective religious traditions for centuries. We are happy and comfortable with them, and we learn a lot from each other. And yet, some random stranger knocking on the door thinks that they can change all of that with a brief conversation? Really?
At a recent dinner party, the host (a dear and gracious friend) decided to lecture her guests on a new diet that she was enthusiastic about, which challenges almost everything you likely believe and understand about healthy eating. It also challenges state-of-the-art nutrition science. But she insisted that we all read some popular press book about this diet and then change our lives accordingly. Yeah, right. Of course, no one did as she demanded; all she accomplished was alienating a number of her friends. Probably not what she had planned.
Why Advice Fails
To be fair, we all find ways to tell others how to live. We can’t help it. We all have strong points of view and believe that others should do or think as we do. And most of us are all too comfortable expressing those views to others, whether they’re interested or not.
Yet, research using reactance theory informs us that whenever someone tells us what to do and how to do it, we respond with a defensive defiance because we want to maximize our personal freedom and decision making.
So we know that telling others what they should do, even if it is reasonable advice, rarely (if ever) works, though you’d never know this by the endless roster of self-help books and advice gurus out there.
What Does Work?
If we really want to encourage behavior (or belief) change in others we actually need to move away from advice giving (especially when our advice is unsolicited) and toward modeling. In other words, we need to be an example for others rather than telling them what to do.
Research on observational learning (in conjunction with an understanding of reactance theory) suggests that while people will resist unsolicited advice and instruction, they will follow the behaviors of others—especially when there appear to be good and reinforcing outcomes from these behaviors (or beliefs).
Here’s a good recent example: One of the most delightful families I met at my son’s high school are evangelical Christians. But I had no clue what their religious affiliation was for about 3 years, after spending lots of time with them at track meets and other events. They modeled friendliness, graciousness, and caring better than anyone else I knew at this large public high school. Only during a casual conversation at one of our children’s last track meets did I even have any idea of their beliefs and traditions. They modeled wonderful and appealing behaviors without a word and set an excellent example for others—very different than the folks knocking on the door telling you what you should do and believe.
If you really want to encourage behavior change in those around you, model the behavior that you want and keep your advice-giving instincts in check. I know—I’m giving advice here, and perhaps contradicting myself, but still, just consider this strategy and see how it works out for you.
Copyright Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP
LESSON LEARNED and now in implementation by the author of this blog. We can learn new tricks. We can become a person we want to be. We can exercise constraint and we can observe others grow as we want to grow. Some of the best lessons I have learned during my life is from being resistant to other’s advice, thinking I knew better, and having to have my head butted in the wall of life to make appropriate changes. Maybe the key is to love others while they are waiting their turn on the wall. I remember Mom saying about one of my brothers, “He is so stubborn and won’t listen; he will have to butt his head and he will learn.” How wise she was and I wish I had listened to her words then.
Teaching is a great art and leading by example is a great way to get a message across to another person. We need to save the preaching to the ministers and even they have ones who don’t listen to them either.
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