Encouragement versus Advice

A book I'm currently
reading reminded me of something I've been mulling a long time. It's a very old practice, heavily embedded in most cultures in North America, at least the ones I am exposed to.  It is the practice of trying to help someone by giving them tons of "helpful" advice. Unfortunately those well meaning efforts can come across as shaming at times.  

Often it's a very subtle thing. A comment that sounded helpful at first but you are finding left you feeling lacking or not good enough.  It can come from those who truly do love you and want to help, or can be a back-handed dig by someone who does not wish you well. However it happens, it leaves you in a dark place.

The best examples I can share are those from my own life.  The most recognizable is the way new mums are talked to.  Both my mother and mother-in-law were over the moon excited to become grandmothers. They wanted to be supportive.  As a new mum who hadn't spent much time around babies, and was the first to have grandchildren on both sides, the laser focus was on me. I found myself wracked with self-doubt as a response.

If I looked unsure, they showered me with advice that seemed to indicate I was messing up. Baby is crying when you try to breast feed - maybe they don't like breast feeding, you should try a bottle. Toddlers fighting? They're not very good sports, you need to work on that. I started out on a pedestal for producing the first three grand children, but every time they tried to help, they gave advice the left me feeling like I didn't have a clue.  And I began to believe them.

I quit trusting m
y maternal instincts. Sometimes I over disciplined as I was so worried they would become those terrible children I was warned about.  If they didn't eat every bit on their plate - that wasn't acceptable (even though the adults could be picky eaters). If they fought, that wasn't acceptable. If they were strong willed, they needed to be tamed. It was like I had a little devil (made up of grandma #1 and grandma #2) sitting on my shoulder whispering doom and gloom in my ear. This caused me to make so many mistakes I wish I could take back.  

The truth is I have amazing kids. They are kind hearted. They know their mind and don't let others push them around. They are independent.  Based on the advice I was given and all the mistakes I made, this is astonishing. I found the same was true in other areas of my life. I was horrified to realize I also did this to others at times. How did we get trained to give advice, but never taught how to give simple support? 

Looking at the time I was trying to write my first full book, I remember feeling great self doubt - a common emotion for me. I had a community of supporters who wanted me to succeed and tried to lift me up. For that I am so grateful. Looking back now I realize what I most wanted, way more than advice, was to hear positive words such as "You got this," "You're doing great," "You'll figure it out," and simply "I'm proud of you."  We honestly don't say these empowering words enough. I have begun to try my best to simply encourage through praise more and give advice less.  A work in progress, but it's important to me. 

I do want to add
one side note of thanks. I remember talking to a long time industry friend - photographer Garry K. - after I published my first book. I told him how I suffered through the process, never really believing I'd finish or publish; never believing what I wrote would be good enough to put out in the world. His response floored me. He said simply, "I never doubted. I always knew you could do it." What a gift. When he said those words I cried. Thank you my friend.

Want to empower other people? Want to teach your kids how to think on their own?  Then only give suggestions when specifically asked.  If you want to share something unsolicited, then make sure they know it's only an idea you have, you have no idea if it will help them, and then give them the freedom to ignore it and follow their own instincts. Who knows what will be right for them? It's different for everyone. More than anything, let them know you're proud of them. Say, "Well done" often.   

I challenge each of you to offer simple praise to someone this week. Tell them you know they will figure it out. that they can do it. Be the person who, instead of "helping," gives them the courage and freedom to find their own way.  Let me close by saying those words to you. Whatever you are facing - YOU GOT THIS.  YOU CAN DO IT. WELL DONE!