Tracy Winchell

Two Thoughtful Tools for Being Kind: Support vs. Advice

published3 months ago
3 min read

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Hello Reader!

Do you feel accomplished or complimented when someone thanks you for your kindness?

I was in my late 40s before hearing someone tell me I’m kind. I was shocked.

Over the past decade, I’ve learned to be thoughtful when dealing with other humans.

As the end-of-year and holiday stress mounts, I need to remember how to:

  1. Keep my mouth shut when tempers flare, so I am less likely to be unkind.
  2. Offer substantial support to someone who is struggling.

This series is as much a set of instructions for myself as it is a guide for you.

This week, you will learn when:

  • Giving unsolicited advice is a terrible approach (Always)
  • Invisible support is the ultimate kindness

How to Not Be Unkind

I struggled to keep it together in the weeks and months after my Daddy died.

The truth is, it took 18 months to get anything in my life “together.”

My restoration began when I walked into a faith-based recovery group.

One of the guidelines is:

We are here to support one another, not “fix” one another. This keeps us focused on our own issues.

After a few weeks of not giving unsolicited advice, I started figuring out what I needed — not trying to please every person who had told me how to get on with my life.

You have felt the same way. Maybe you feel this way now.

You might even be that well-meaning person who worries so much about a loved one’s poor choices that you can’t help but give unsolicited advice.

Let’s work through the science.

The science of unsolicited advice

Giving unsolicited advice can be harmful because it can come across as judging or lecturing.

It can also make the person feel like they cannot solve their own problems.

Ethan Kross, a professor at the University of Michigan, explains self-efficacy in humans and why you must cultivate the belief in yourself and others.

Self-efficacy is your ability to believe in your ability to manage challenges, solve problems, and take care of yourself.

Years of psychological research show that when self-efficacy is damaged, you struggle with self-esteem, health, decision-making, and relationships.

…when we are aware that others are helping us but we haven’t invited their assistance, we interpret this to mean that we must be helpless or ineffective in some way—a feeling that our inner voice may latch on to.
Ethan Kross, Chatter

It is essential to respect the other person's ability to make their own decisions and trust that they will figure things out in their own way and in their own time.

If you’re like me, you grew up in a world where giving advice showed caring and kindness.

Now that you understand the collateral damage, how should you support someone in a bad place?

Invisible Support

All my life, my sweet Mama has shown me silent support.

She supported me even when I ran off to Mississippi straight out of college to launch a broadcast journalism career.

I was in my 40s before she told me how concerned she was about my career decision.

Talk about kindness!

The ideals which have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been kindness, beauty, and truth.
Albert Einstein

Your Turn

1. Name some ways you can offer invisible support.

  • Be available.
  • Listen without judging.
  • Offer words of encouragement.
  • Sit with them in the silence of a terrible moment.
  • Support a family member by taking on some of their chores.

2. How do I identify someone who needs invisible support?

  • Irritability
  • Excessive worry
  • Trouble focusing
  • Anyone who just lost a loved one, job, or spouse
  • A change in eating habits, dress, and sleeping habits

3. How do you break the habit of giving unsolicited advice?

Ask for permission to share your perspective.

Share your experience and how you responded.

Show no expression (body gestures, no sounds, and facial expressions)

Emphasize, “That’s what worked for me. Your situation is unlike my experiences, so make your choices accordingly.”

Promise your support, no matter what decisions they make — even when it is difficult for you to do so.

Reflection Questions:

  1. When was a time you felt supported in this way? How did you feel?
  2. Name a time you received a barrage of advice. How did you feel?
  3. Ask a few people close to you: “How often do I offer unsolicited advice?” Am I being helpful or harmful to you?”

I’d love to hear your responses! Reply to this email.