One of the fastest ways to help someone is not to give advice, but rather to listen. We all solve problems differently, and often there are multiple solutions to a single problem. Your solutions are no less valid than mine, but my brain would never solve problems the way you would and vice versa.
That means to help someone find their way, it’s best to listen and give them the space to create the solution on their own. While listening, you’re not looking for places to interject. You’re truly listening to their thoughts. After they’re through you can ask open ended questions like, “What do you think,” “Why do you think,” “I heard you say X, what do you think that’s about?”
These are all questions that honor the other person’s intelligence and problem solving abilities. Once a person has the explicit and implicit permission to think on their own, they will find a solution much faster than when given advice that doesn’t make sense in their brain.
And yes, it is okay to sometimes give advice when you see someone is approaching a cliff, and/or if they are in imminent danger of hurting themselves or others. But other than that, if advice is asked for and then followed; it won’t look completely like the advice you gave. It will be a hybrid of what works in your head and what works in theirs.
This recipe works for your children, your stubborn grandmother, a peer in crisis, and your students, but with one caveat. You have to be willing to alter this recipe in the present moment. This is no perfect process and you have to be willing to screw up the recipe a little, not get down on yourself for doing so, and continue to add spices to the mix until it feels and looks like you “got it right.”
Oh, and yes, I get the irony of writing this blog post as a piece of advice. But as always with anything I write… take what you like and leave the rest. :)