Existential Psychology

Advice On How To Give Advice

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When you let people know that they’re doing a good job and that they can add to their life skill tool belt by doing such and such a little differently they tend to be much more receptive than if you start with the premise that they’re doing badly and need to fix what they’re doing wrong.

It should be immediately obvious why strategy number one works better than strategy number two. No one likes being put under the microscope unless the attention is positive and sometimes not even then. It’s extremely aversive, extremely negatively reinforcing, to hear we’re deficient in some area. We want to be recognized and appreciated for our successes not maligned for our failures. And the standard psychological solution is to simply shut down, to disregard what’s being said while cultivating hostility for the person saying it.

Yet most advice givers choose strategy number two and the potentially helpful information ends up falling on deaf ears. This bad outcome has more to do with the psychologies of the advice givers than it does with the advice receivers. The problem is that a lot of advice givers out there are more interested in themselves than they are in the people they’re supposedly trying to help. Information that appears to be directed outwards is in actuality directed inwards, it fulfills emotional and psychological needs like wanting to appear wise or feel superior, for example. It doesn’t come from a place of really caring about the growth and self-actualization of the other, this is just the packaging.

If we’re really sensitive to the life situations and psychologies of the people we’re trying to help, not just forcing our own viewpoints upon them, it’s usually quite easy to find and celebrate the various areas where these people really are doing a good job, areas where they’ve had to confront and overcome obstacles. Because what’s easy for one person is challenging for another and vice versa, we all have different blind spots, different strengths and weaknesses, different innate talents and abilities.

If we’re really interested in helping people it’s not enough to transmit helpful information. We have to consider the way we package that information so that the psychology of the unique individual in question is in a place to accept it. Otherwise we’re just wasting our time and we’re proving that we have no idea what that person wants or needs we only what we ourselves want or need.