No More Little Tips

Dear Friends,

Feelings, Thoughts, Judgments

Recently, a dear friend called me and said, “I have something hard to tell you, and I don’t want positivity, statistics, or stories. Just hold it with me.” She shared a worrisome medical diagnosis, and I immediately wanted to break all three rules and try to make it seem less serious and frightening, but suddenly, I realized that grasping for the best outcome was about ME feeling better—not her. So, I followed her rules and didn’t offer anything but a sympathetic “Oh, Honey, that’s hard. I’m here for anything you need.”

A few weeks later, I had to make decisions about the best way to sell our home. I put a lot of time into it, interviewed several real estate agents, consulted a house stager, and hired a contractor for an estimate of all things needing attention. I listened to podcasts and read endless articles about the best way to sell a house, the potential returns on investing in renovations, and made an informed decision that I was comfortable with. It seemed that most people I told volunteered their own little tips, and a few had big advice. “Sell it as is; that’s what we did.” “Whatever you do, paint it first.” “Don’t paint it; it’s a waste of money.” “Be sure to sell it yourself,” and so on and so forth. I swore that I would scream if one more person gave me advice I hadn’t asked for.

Then, one night at our weekly dinner out, my husband said he was anxious about moving to another city, and that, in fact, he was feeling some grief at the thought of leaving our beautiful home and long-term friends. I didn’t hesitate. I reminded him why we had chosen the city we planned to move to, all the great things that were available there for him to appreciate, and began to challenge his feelings of loss by pointing out more “positive ways” to think about the move. He pushed back and asked why I couldn’t just hear him express his feelings without telling him they were wrong. Suddenly, I realized I was doing the very thing that had annoyed me when my friends did it to me—little tips, big advice.

It seemed innocent enough, but in looking more deeply into my responses, I realized that I was really saying that I knew what he should feel better than he did, and that he could skip the uncomfortable feelings if he just did as I said. That way, I could skip over my own discomfort at seeing him struggling and feeling sad. He was asking for emotional support, not for me to fix everything. In fact, there was nothing to fix—he just wanted to be listened to and understood.

Most of us don’t want “little tips” or “big advice,” whether it’s about a well-researched decision we must make or the feelings we’re struggling with. We just want to be heard and validated—someone to sit beside us, rather than telling us how we “should feel” or what decisions we “should” make. Advising a person (without being asked) means that you know the context of the situation better than they do, that their uncomfortable feelings are wrong, and that your feelings, thoughts, and judgments about their situation are more important than their own.