Just ask

Published 07/04/2021

When someone comes to us and they’re not in a good way, the helper in us, the fixer, the empathiser, might accidentally offer unsolicited advice.

Unsolicited advice usually comes from a good place. A place of care, love and I’ve-been-there’s-and-this-is-what-I-did’s. Sometimes too, it comes from a place of not knowing what to say.

Instead of holding space for someone to talk through their problems, to experience the rumble of emotions, to be able to express the stress or distress, we might have a knee-jerk reaction to offer unsolicited advice and to over-identify with whatever it is they’re going through.

There’s a big difference between needing an understanding ear, some kind words, patience, gentle encouragement and validation, someone to sit with us in the darkness until it passes, and, in needing and asking for guidance and advice.

When we take on another’s pain and jump into fix-it-mode, we’re trampling all over another’s boundaries. To the advice-giver it won’t feel that way; it might feel great, as though you’re being helpful, nice to feel needed, an opportunity to show how much you care with all the giving of suggestions, reading recommendations, guidance, and hindsight. To the receiver who hasn’t asked for advice, it feels grotty and can be a cause for more stress, we might regret opening up and hesitate to do so the next time we’re not doing so good.

Where we’re expressing our problems as an outlet to reduce the pressure we feel inside, to explain why we haven’t been ourselves, or whatever the reason, the last thing we often need is for our heads to be filled back up with all the things we could or should be trying to do to help ourselves. We often need a fortifying pause between the not-so-great things happening and the feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically energised enough to jump into solutions-mode and action.

In the same way that we might ask someone if they have emotional capacity to listen to our problems before unloading, we might ask the person who has unloaded onto us, whether they’re after an ear or some advice. That simple step before you dive in with your tips, hacks, books, links, resources, what you did’s, can make a huge difference to how the advice is received and the helpfulness that you’ve provided. We don’t all need fixing, sometimes we just need a listening, kind, understanding ear and that in itself can ease a lot of pain and anguish, and fortify us to feel ready to take action.

If in doubt, just ask. Healthy relationships are a place where clear, honest, and open communication underpins them.

Look after yourself and if you are not sure,  just ask.

Kim Fry
UKSA Welfare Officer