“The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend.” —Henry David Thoreau
Sometimes a lesson presents itself to me once and it sticks with me forever. Don’t put your hand on the hot stove, you’ll get burnt. Always give yourself ten minutes more than you’ll need. And so on. Yet, there are other lessons that confront me time after time and still I don’t learn.
One of the hardest lessons for me to learn and accept has been: You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.
I once had a dear friend who I’d been close with since elementary school. When we went to college, she got into an abusive relationship. I loved her dearly and naturally I wanted to help. I gave her advice and told her what I thought she should do. I pressured her to leave the abusive situation. She ended our friendship. Twelve years and it was over in an instant. She had made up her mind. I was heartbroken.
I decided then that I would never again give unsolicited advice. I was sad, but I was certain that I had learned a valuable lesson. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. I vowed to never again try and help a person that didn’t want my help. But yet…
Time passed, as time does, and over the years it happens over & over again. A friend or a loved one seems to be in trouble so I give advice. I want to help. I want to make things better. While somewhere in the deepest corner of my mind I know that I shouldn’t—I just can’t help myself. Like the moth to the flame. My desire to help is an enormous part of who I am. I love to help people. (Hello, evolution you, life coaching, motivational speaking!) But what I need to accept, is that not everyone needs, or more importantly wants my help.
So, today I am renewing my vow to zip my lip. I have plenty of opportunity to give advice, inspire, and spread love & light. I have my life coaching clients, this blog, and some friends/family who actively solicit and appreciate my input. There is no reason for me to continue giving my two cents when it isn’t asked for. I’ve got a plan of action and I am going to share it here in the event that you might be suffering from diarrhea-of-the-mouth-disease, too.
1. You don’t have all the answers. The truth of the matter is that I don’t know it all. There are many instances where what I consider to be “right” is actually wrong for someone else Just because I would do something a certain way, doesn’t mean that it’s the way it should be done.
Remember this wise advice: He who claims to knows all, knows nothing. He who claims to know nothing, knows all.
2. Listen, really listen. Most people don’t even know what it means to listen. Rather than truly listening during conversation, we are waiting eagerly to butt in with our two cents. We can’t possibly know what is being told to us when we are already forming our next statements in our minds.
Practice true proactive listening.
3. Scan conversation for indicators. Sometimes people don’t want advice at all, then simply want someone to listen to them, a shoulder to cry on. There is the classic example of the wife and the husband where the wife tells her husband that she has a headache. All she really wants is for him to listen and say, “I’m sorry sweetie.” But all he actually does is tell her to take an Advil.
Scan the conversation for indication of what the speaker really wants? Is she repeatedly asking for your advice and input, or is she just asking you to listen. Give her what she really wants and needs, not what you *think* she needs.
4. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Imagine the roles reversed. Imagine that you’ve just had a hard day at work and you simply want to vent so you call a friend. Would you want that friend to just listen or would you want him to brush you off and suggest that you quit your job? Give your loved ones the same consideration that you would expect if the shoe were on the other foot.
5. Remember that there is a time for everything. Finally, understand that there is a time to share your thoughts and a time to simply listen. In our fast-paced societies where we rush from thing to thing like rabid animals, take time to slow down. Accept that oftentimes listening is more important than speaking and likely the wise decision.
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls.” —Mother Teresa