There’s plenty of good relationship advice out there, well known clichés that are the sound track to go alongside that bottle of wine to ease the heartache. I recently text a medley of these gems to friend who was in need of some soothing – ‘He was never good enough for you’, ‘There’s plenty more fish in the sea’, ‘He’ll realise what he’s done when it’s too late’, you know the rest. But staring back at the words on my phone I felt ashamed to be a writer let alone call myself a friend.
The advice sounded more uncomfortable than words-of-comfort and pricked at my conscience as to why I was so reluctant to offer a Freudian couch to my friend. It was as if I had some secret intelligence I wanted to save for myself and was trying to lead her of the scent, but when have women ever been able to follow their own good advice? As friends we are therapists; on call 24 hours, 7 days a week, but there’s no degree in how best to offer a shoulder to cry on and administering guidance can sometimes be very daunting.
We can all be guilty of fobbing a mate off with some comfort phrases or ignoring a call you know will last at least an hour; how else are we supposed to get on with the drama in our own lives? But when the spotlight is on us to dish out the advice it can be easy to crack under the pressure and stumble on our words of wisdom. So where is the happy medium between agony aunt and anti-advice?
If you’ve been friends since you chased boys in the playground together or simply the woman you bump into on the corridor at work, knowing the right thing to say at the right time is a mine field. Let’s face it, it’s not only important to give the best advice you can to be a Good Samaritan but when the shoe’s on the other foot we all need somebody to lean on.
For best results please apply the following instructions while drinking wine -
‘The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself.’ – Oscar Wilde
♥ Listen to the person asking you for advice – this is the most valuable and selfless comfort you can give. Every situation is unique, so never assume you know all you need to know about a problem. If you need clarification or feel you need to know more to be able to give an honest opinion, ask questions. Being an active listener will not only help you give good advice, it will also increase the chances that your friend will take it.
♥ BODY LANGUAGE should be open and positive and remember to keep good eye contact; this will make you a more trustworthy and sympathetic listener and potential advisor. While quizzical brows and tilting your head may show you understand your friends heartache and frustration, don’t forget you are trying to cheer them up and elevate them too so pass on a smile and opening your shoulders will give you a more cheerful appearance.
♥ Never tell your friends just what they want to hear- this is not advice. In the long term this does nobody any favours as the problem is bound to return, do it right at the first instance and you can save each other a lot of time. I’ve even called my friend’s bluff in the past by asking them, ‘do want me to be honest with you or do you just want me to tell you what you want to hear?’ This soon puts a problem into perspective.
♥ As for honesty (or brutal honesty) – be empathetic and remember it’s easy to be all knowing from the outside when your head isn’t in a war with your heart. If your advised course of action has potential drawbacks, tell the person about them. If you don’t really feel qualified or knowledgeable enough about something to give advice on it, be honest about this fact. Your goal is to help your friend make the decision that is right for them, so don’t act like a salesman.
♥ Lastly, don’t give advice that you yourself would not follow – this is a very good test of the strength and feasibility of your guidance; the agony aunt version of the motto- treat people how you would like to be treated.