How To Give Advice That People Will Listen

And why pushing harder does not work

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I got this question from a reader:

My friend Jen has been seeing a guy for a few weeks. She told me that he's married, but plans to divorce his wife. He has kids too.

A few days ago, another friend of mine Susan told me that this same guy is texting her and sending suggestive photos of himself to her. Susan shared their exchanges with me after I told her about Jen. 

I went to Jen and showed her Susan's screenshots, but to my surprise, Jen still wants to see him.

It bothers me that Jen is behaving this way. I don't want to see her go down a cliff, and I don't condone her dating a married man either. What should I do?

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' - that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” ― John Keats

First of all, good for you for letting your friend know the truth. We all need friends that dare to tell us the hard facts, so we're not blindsided. Your intentions are good, and I am sorry that your friend is not willing to listen.

You provided Jen all the evidence she needed to make a call. Though we may not agree with it, Jen choosing to keep seeing this guy is ultimately her choice.

Given this, here's what you can do.

Ask Questions 

“Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood” ― Stephen Covey

Often, we feel that to change someone’s mind, we must tell them that they're wrong and we're right. This strategy rarely works.

Making people wrong triggers their ego response, and they dig their heels in deeper to save face. 

Instead, try influencing them by asking questions.

Called the Socratic method after the Greek philosopher Socrates, it is a form of asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions. 

Most of the time, people already know the answer to their own questions. By asking them, "What would you tell your best friend if they are in your shoes?" you help them think through things and get to the answer themselves.

You may want to ask Jen why she is still seeing this guy despite what you've told her. By asking this question, you are helping her examine her motivations by holding a mirror to her.

Let People Learn Their Lessons

“There are certain life lessons that you can only learn in the struggle.” ― Idowu Koyenikan

As frustrating as it may be, sometimes, we just have to take a seat, and allow people to make their own mistakes. 

I don't have enough fingers to count the number of times I did something I knew I shouldn't have done and got burned for it. Knowing that I sometimes choose to make obvious mistakes, I've learned to cut people some slack when I see them do the same. 

The good and bad news is that the universe will keep throwing us the same lesson until we master it. If your friend is a self-reflective person, hopefully, she will learn from this experience and not do it again.

I don't know Jen's particular situation, but a common reason people stay in toxic relationships is that they are afraid of being alone. The fear comes from a place of not loving ourselves enough. When we love ourselves, we can be alone but not feel lonely because we are our own best friend. 

This topic is so crucial that I published an article, "This Is The First Step Towards Self-Love," to walk people through how to build the habit of supporting ourselves. Feel free to share it with your friend if it is helpful.

Focus Our Locus of Control Squarely On Ourselves

“I have studied the patterns of the universe. There’s a redemptive power that making a choice has, rather than feeling like you’re at effect to all the things that are happening. Make a choice. You just decide what it’s gonna be, who you’re gonna be, you just decide. And then from that point the universe is going to get out your way. It’s water, it wants to move and go around stuff.” ― Will Smith

A mistake that many of us make when giving advice is we over-invest ourselves. We try to make people do what we want them to do, and get frustrated when they ignore us. 

We also get emotionally entangled in their drama. We feel that we have no choice but to witness the plane crash that's about to happen.

All of these assumptions are false. We have no control over anyone but ourselves, and we don't have to do anything we don't want to do. We can and should set boundaries to make clear what we will and will not accept from others.

“Good fences make good neighbors.” ― Robert Frost

For example, you can let Jen know that you don't want to discuss this topic further because it bothers you to see her doing what you believe is wrong.

A boundary is only real if you enforce it with action. Hopefully, Jen respects your request and stops bringing up her relationship with this guy. If she doesn't, remind her of your boundary verbally the first time she violates it. If she continues to ignore your request, you can walk away from the conversation or block her from your life, temporarily or forever. 

Respect is the basis of any healthy relationship. Someone who does not respect our boundaries does not respect us, and it is best to let them go.

“It is necessary, and even vital, to set standards for your life and the people you allow in it.” ― Mandy Hale

I hope my advice helps, and best of luck in your conversation with Jen.

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