Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and had a light come on . . . like “Hey, I’ve been where he is. I can help this guy. I know what he should do.” As soon as there’s a break in the conversation, you share your advice only to get a terse look accompanying complete and utter rejection! You’re left wondering, “What just happened?”
Unsolicited advice is almost always received as criticism. When someone . . . anyone (but especially the parent of an adult child) offers unsolicited advice, there’s an element of accusation buried in it. It touches on their shame. They think, “So you’re saying (I’m not as smart as you . . . I haven’t been as observant . . . I’ve failed in some way . . . fill in the blank).” Very few people have the willingness and ability to drop their ego, consider or even hear what we’re saying.
The keyword here? Unsolicited. Most of the time, friends and family members share what’s going on in their lives to be known and understood. They want empathy. When we jump in with advice, we cause their emotional level to go up. They feel the need to defend themselves. It’s a whole different thing when they ask for your input. They’re demonstrating openness. Humility. Teachability. Your advice is much more likely to land on fertile ground when it’s sought after.
As I help men move into the role of mentor, I suggest they be cautious about giving advice, even when solicited. When a mentee brings an issue to the group, there is more to the story than he’s telling (and more than he even knows, in all likelihood). So it’s dangerous to start shoveling out advice and platitudes when you don’t even have all the facts. Instead, try to stay within these three guardrails:
- What does God say through Scripture? – You’ll never go wrong pointing people to God’s Word for advice. I’m not talking about proof-texting your advice . . . I’m talking about specific truths relevant to the situation or decision they’re facing.
- What’s your story and relevant experience? – If you’ve been through a similar situation, sharing what you did and how it turned out can be extremely valuable to a younger person. You have to be honest . . . to be willing to share both good and bad decisions and outcomes. And you have to be disciplined enough to stop at the end of the story and not say, “So if I were you, I’d . . .”
- Empower them to figure it out – Ask questions that will help them think through the issue and lead them to their own decision. Coach them on how to get to the answer rather than giving them the answer yourself.
Of course, the best advice always comes directly from God. “Lord, what would you have me know about this situation, this person, this decision?” “What would you have me do with what you’ve shown me?” When He speaks, obey. Sometimes, what you say might be received as criticism by the other person. But if God has appointed us to challenge, as long as we’re obeying His clear instructions and “speaking the truth in love,” we’ll be okay in the long fun.
Scripture: So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1 NLT)
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