You’re gossiping your night away with a girlfriend, crystal glass of sauvignon blanc in hand. You share chatter with her, and then, without you having had even posed a question, she solicits some advice. You reach your glass to your lips as you swallow your pride. You smile one of those telling closed mouthed smiles, as you avoid eye contact by growing an interest for the intrinsic details of the glass.
If only you could tell her that you didn’t ask her opinion. That you don’t need her to share her tips and concerns. I see this situation come up all too often. We are so eager to help, likely because it’s easier to help someone else than help ourselves. We find the need to protect our friends, but while we do it, we often cross a line without even knowing one was drawn to begin with. Listening is hard to do because as we try to listen we can’t help but let the sound of our friends voices draw out, as our inner chatter and judgments emerge. These judgments aren’t necessarily truths but instead they are our own insecurities and concerns of mistakes we have made coming into light.
We can’t take back words once they leave our lips. They make there mark and are etched into the listeners memory. Even if you ‘take back’ what you say, they’ve already been said. Damage done. Thoughts known. Next time a friend is talking to you, sharing with you and opening up, listen to their words. Turn off the volume of your inner chatter, of your memories, of times when you were in that sameish situation. Don’t make what they say about you but instead give them the attention they command, by listening wholly and fully. Before giving advice, simply ask ‘Do you want my response?’ or ‘Do you want my opinion?’
I remember a friend of mine sent me a newsletter for his company and it was filled with an exclamation mark after every sentence. It was overbearing. It was unprofessional. It was too much and the CP Style Guide-trained J-school graduate in me wanted to tell him that this was not ok. Instead, I sent him an email informing him that I had read his newsletter and asked him if he wanted any feedback. He didn’t, so I just let it be.
The problem with giving advice to a friend who hasn’t asked for it, is the person on the receiving end becomes more guarded. They may avoid coming to you in the future, for fear that you will tell them something they don’t want to hear. Over-sharing is a concern we should all be aware of. Boundaries and the needs of our friends as well. Next time a friend comes to you, before you express any concern, ask them first if they want to hear it. If not, realize that they are a twentysomething who is capable of taking care of themselves. Making decisions; learning from mistakes. Keep it to yourself so you can – in turn – keep your friend.
– Jenny Jen
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