I had a conversation a few months ago about a transition I was starting to make in some of my relationships. The decision? To stop giving advice to friends and instead just focus on enjoying their company. Another tentative decision I made was to stop participating in conversations that were not strengthening my relationships. I care about the overall well-being of those I interact with closely, so my mindset is always to protect and fight for people that I care about. I usually do this by giving advice and offering to provide accountability. However, I have realized that not all conversations are meant to have an action plan and follow-up afterwards. Or, maybe, that not everyone desires this from me. Over the years, I have focused on developing myself so that I can be a friend that is a true resource and support to people around me rather than what I view as a friend in name only/someone that can only be found when life is going well. This means that the transition I mentioned above has been a very stretching and challenging process for me. However, it is necessary for the health and restoration of past and current relationships as well as the strength of future ones. This transition has also helped me focus on different outlets to use the skills I have been working on for so many years (such outlets include the workplace or professional organizations).
So, back to the conversation I had a few months ago...
There was some follow-up on the conversation shortly after and I was asked if I would be interested in reading two books on coaching. My initial thought was that coaching would have the same the effect as me just providing advice (which was the opposite of what I wanted) and therefore no one would be interested. However, I was challenged with this statement: You don’t know. This was enough to give me some hope and decide to start reading the books.
Overall, when it comes to basic friendship, what I took away from the books is that being bold enough to ask what is desired from a specific conversation can improve the quality of relationships. It is important to know whether a friend wants advice, a listening ear, support, or someone to help them process through an event or situation. It is also important to know whether whatever is desired from the conversation can be provided in the context of a specific relationship (for example, have you given a friend you are seeking advice from enough information to effectively weigh in on a situation you are discussing with them). No matter what the topic is, both the listener and primary speaker need to know the details mentioned above. When I started reading the books, it was difficult for me to envision friends being onboard with me asking what they wanted from me in a conversation. It was even harder to picture myself telling someone what I wanted out of a conversation as I thought about friends with different personalities than me possibly being hurt by my requests. At the same time, I was able to reflect on what I am willing to sit and listen to in silence as well as what it would look like for me to express that I am not going to have or continue to have a specific conversation with a friend because of X, Y, or Z .
I have started applying a few elements of this different approach to relationships with some of my family members, however, there have been specific instances over the past few months that have made me realize that I should start incorporating coaching into my friendships as soon as possible. In each of the instances, the quality of a relationship was threatened due to unsolicited advice that was given to me. Since I try to be proactive when it comes to processing through situations that rub me the wrong way or make me angry, I was able to bounce back and move forward quickly (i.e. not hold it against the individual(s)). However, the truth is that I could have shut down completely… Which means that I will have to address these types of situations directly and quickly for the health of my relationships. If I have made friends feel the way that I felt in the situations above, then I wish they would have told me so that I could change as needed. Either way, I am very thankful that I was given the opportunity to read the books on coaching and consider how they can help me salvage old relationships as well start new ones!
A few other steps I have taken:
Even though I didn't realize it at the time, this website (Informed!) is in many ways an extension of my desire to separate advice-giving from friendships and instead provide a resource to those looking for information and different (or similar) perspectives on topics that matter. At the same time, one of my main goals with the blog, specifically, is to provide an outlet for adults with different life experiences to share advice and their perspectives with individuals in their 20s and 30s.
I created another resource (NotThatFriend.com) in order to provide a service that is strictly for those seeking accountability (as opposed to coaching, mentorship, friendship/a listening ear, or advice).
Questions to ponder:
1. What are some things that you may need to do in order to improve the quality of your relationships?
2. Has unsolicited advice caused you to shut down in one or more relationships? If yes, were you able to discuss the situation with your friend or loved one?
3. Are you hopeful that some of the relationships you put to the side can be salvaged?
This blog series is focused on Life Change.
Would you like to have your story or experience featured on Informed!? Email your answers or story to firstname.lastname@example.org, along with a pen name (if you would like to remain anonymous).