The following dilemma comes up very frequently, both in clients’ lives and my own:
A friend, family member, co-worker, etc., comes to you asking for advice about a particular subject. You tell them your professional or expert or knowledgeable opinion. Then, they ignore it. Or worse, do the opposite.
My guess is that about 80% of the time, people who ask for advice do not actually want it. What they are really looking for is validation.
Validation is the mirroring of someone’s beliefs and opinions back to them, and the reassurance that their thinking is okay and makes sense. Everyone needs validation. Validation helps us feel heard, understood, and confident in ourselves.
If we only give advice to one another, without validating, we are missing out on a big opportunity to bolster each other’s self-esteem, and grow closer in our relationships.
With that being said, giving only validation, with no advice or feedback, is not good either. Your feedback is important, and people need to hear it.
So, how do we balance advice and validation? I recommend a validation sandwich. Yum, yum. You may have heard of a compliment sandwich – bookending criticism with kind words, to soften the blow. The validation sandwich is very similar.
- “This is a really difficult / upsetting / confusing / annoying situation. I’m sorry you’re going through this.”
- [Give your advice. Say it with confidence.]
- “That’s my advice. You’re smart, and I trust that you’ll do what’s best for you.”
That’s it! Easy, right?
Now, for the hard part: They’ve ignored you, or done the opposite of what you’ve suggested. It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking this personally. After all, this person came to you, for your opinion. Don’t they value it?
Maybe, maybe not. But just because they don’t take your advice doesn’t mean it wasn’t helpful.
First, just being there for someone in any capacity is more helpful than you probably realize. Second, giving advice is like planting a seed in the mind of the person in question. Perhaps many others have planted similar seeds. Down the road, weeks, months, or years from now, those seeds may grow and create change in that person’s life.
Keep in mind, you may not bear witness to that change. You may not ever be thanked or attributed to that change. Change is just as slow as the growth of a big oak tree. You must trust that with time and patience and a lot of effort on the part of the person in question, it will happen. But there’s really nothing else you can do but wait. And keep making those validation sandwiches.
Do people often come to you for advice? What are your tips for good advice-giving? Let me know in the comments.