Imagine that you enter somebody’s home, and that you do so without being invited and without asking if you can enter. Your presence wouldn’t be very welcome, would it? And your relationship with the people living there would be damaged.
I don’t know many people who literally enter another person’s home in that manner (except criminals, of course). But this is a good example to have in mind when you think about giving advice. Giving advice is like entering somebody’s home; you are entering people’s personal space. And you want to be sure that you are welcome there. And the way to be sure is to either Ask Permission or Have an Invitation.
Now typically we give advice in response to what somebody has told us. For example, they might have described a dilemma they were having, or an issue they are dealing with. And you might be thinking, “If they don’t want my advice, why are they telling me all this?” But people tell us things for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they want advice; other times they simply want to be heard empathically, or to speak and have a sounding board for their ideas. And if all they want is to be heard and you jump in and give advice, you will typically find that your advice is unwelcome and even resented. That is because unsolicited advice is a very big communication mistake.
This quote from The Art of Advice (p. 33) says it well:
“An experienced advisor recognizes that there is a great difference between asking for advice and asking for understanding. Do not assume that persons who tell you their troubles want you to be their advisor.”
Here is an all-too-common way in which the mistake of unsolicited advice plays out. It is a story about Patty and her husband David, but it could just as easily be about parents and children, two friends, co-workers, etc. Does this sound familiar?
Patty was upset about something that happened at work. After she finished describing the situation, her husband David told her how she might best resolve it. To his dismay, Patty stood up, said in an angry tone “Who asked you to say anything?” and left the room. David, who had listened to Patty without interrupting and had then offered his best advice, could not figure out what caused this eruption.
Actually, the cause of the eruption is quite simple. David made the crucial mistake of unsolicited advice—he offered advice without first making sure that Patty wants it. And Patty’s reaction is what often happens in such situations. People ‘push back’, that is, they remind us–and not always in the most pleasant way–that they had not invited our input.
So if you want to communicate skillfully, if you really want to be of assistance to others and enhance your relationships with them, then before you give advice you need to know if the other wants it. That is the skill of Ask or Have, which is Ask Permission before giving advice or Have an Invitation. If the speaker has asked you for your input, then you ‘Have an Invitation’. If the speaker hasn’t asked you for your input, you need to ‘Ask Permission’.
Now you may be wondering if there are more skillful and less skillful ways of Asking Permission. And yes, indeed, there are. I explain this in Part 2.
People tell us things for a variety of reasons. Just because people have shared something with us does not mean they want our advice.
Giving unsolicited advice is a major communication mistake. Make sure you Ask Permission or Have an Invitation before offering your input.
© 2012 Bernard Uzi Weingarten
If you have found this article of value and want to explore these skills further and master them, I invite you to the first two sessions of my next Communicating Effectively With Compassion tele-course, FREE as my guest. Register at uziteaches.com