There are three things you must always ask yourself before you say anything.
• Does this need to be said?
• Does this need to be said by me?
• Does this need to be said by me now?
These three questions have saved me from myself for YEARS.
As a counselor these questions save me from talking for the client, allowing for the space needed to build trust and actively listen.
As a professor these questions stop me from taking over how students perceive the lesson that I’m teaching. This technique opens up the group dialogue and encourages those hesitant “cheap seat” students who prefer to remain unseen. This key difference from facilitating and teaching requires me to consider myself in the process of their understanding.
As a wife, this technique saves me from stage-hogging the stories that my introverted husband brings to our social time, and let’s him shine. It also takes the heat off of the self-imposed,people-pleaser storyteller side of me, giving me time to recharge.
As a friend, this technique has changed how I select and maintain the close friendships I have in my life. Currently some friends close to me are experiencing some deeply challenging things, and my ability to pause and consider how my responses will impact them has given me a profound empathy for their difficulties. I am more connected and considerate than ever before, but also see that by using this technique of emotional intelligence/self-awareness, I’m actually not offering advice.
Advice gets me into situations I don’t like.
Another strategy I’ve used since entering in to Academia has been to ask:
“Do you want friend Mallory, Counselor Mallory or Professor Mallory?”
This question simplifies my responses greatly.
Friend Mallory is going to listen and cheerlead.
Counselor Mallory is going to listen, but also will want to pull strategies from her ‘bag of tricks’.
Professor Mallory is going to somehow tie your current state of being to either childhood shit or some sort or preadolescent trauma, but will also give you a referral for some help, so I can get back to being ‘friend Mallory’.
We know that rarely can my saying something (or giving advice) actually make someone feel better. Often (ok most) times advice is clouded by criticism. So it’s best to know if someone is seeking to vent, process, or really wants to know how to fix things in their life.
FOR THE RECORD: If they ask for your advice, but choose not to take it, you DO NOT get to then hold those bits of advice over their head. If you are truly offering your support and friendship, you don’t get to keep score. It took me a very long time to learn this.
Spoiler alert: Most of the time, people just want to vent.
Let their therapist help them fix themselves. Odds are you aren’t qualified.
Note to my fellow helpers: The best gift you can give someone you love, is a GOOD referral to a therapist or someone objective that won’t be tempted to give advice, but instead will inform, empower and encourage. We should all be so lucky.