Giving advice will alienate you from your friends. They won’t be able to articulate why. But they won’t feel understood, validated, or like you’re on their side. Instead they’ll just feel like their own thoughts and feelings don’t matter to you.
There’s a stereotype that when women complain about something they don’t want you to fix their problem, they just want you to listen. The implication here is that women are on the whole better listeners, and men are so emotionally inept that they don’t know how to make their partners feel seen or heard.
This is bullshit. There are plenty of women in the world that are absolutely fucking terrible listeners. The issue is not whether you’re a man or a woman, it’s a matter of skill. How good are you at making other people feel like you understand them? At harmonising emotionally with them? At getting in the fucking pillbox with them and loading ammo rather than barking orders?
Your friend comes to you with a problem, and you’ve had the same problem! You solved it using X, Y, or Z method and technique! How lucky for them! If only your friend knew this technique, it would save them years of heartache! They’re so stupid for not listening to you. They really should do what you say and solve this problem right away and feel better.
You’re solving the wrong fucking problem. When a friend comes to you with a problem, they want an ally, not a solution. They’re already working on a solution. If they’re talking to you about it then it’s been weighing heavily on their mind. They’ve struggled and wrestled with it, googled it, read articles about it, and are already overwhelmed with advice and information. They don’t need new information.
There are lots of things you can ask them, places you can take the conversation that will allow them to express their feelings to you. Asking them these things is not hard. But you have to suppress your instinct to give advice and instead be an emotional sounding board for them. That’s the problem that you’re trying to solve, not the perceived lack of knowledge they have.
You can ask them how the problem makes them feel. To reach a solution they need to work through and process the emotions of having the problem. Letting them sound out their feelings helps them to do that and start thinking about steps forward.
You can validate their feelings. Everyone from small babies to full grown adults want their feelings validated. They want others to validate that it makes sense to feel the way they feel in the situation they’re in. A few simple words like “anyone in your situation would feel that way” make all the difference here.
You can ask them what they’ve tried to solve the problem. They have probably thought long and hard about the problem and considered multiple strategies, tactics, and techniques for solving it. Let them tell you what they’ve tried so far.
You can ask them how those tactics worked for them. They want you to be an ally and to be up to speed with the story so far. So after asking them what they tried ask them what progress they made trying to solve the problem with those strategies.
You can ask them if there’s anything you can do to support them. Instead of telling them what to do, ask them what you can do to help! They may not have a good answer for you but they’ll appreciate the offer.
You can save a lot of heartache and relationship problems by being an ally rather than a problem-solver. Unless someone comes to you directly for guidance, you’ll keep more friends and be more valuable to those around you if you don’t give advice.