Should I Listen or Give Advice? How to Determine Which Way to Respond to Your Partner or Friend

Sometimes your loved ones only need a listening ear

Sometimes our partner, friend, or family member might share a stressful story, discuss their daily struggle, or express concerns about a topic…. but you have no idea what response might be the proper one.  How do you know what they need during a chat, whether it’s just a willing an ear to listen or to give constructive advice?  This is no simple task…no matter if it is for friendships or intimate relationships. It can be hard to tell whether you need to listen or give advice.

Here are a few hints about how you might pick up on which one your friend or partner might need:

  • Ask what they want: We can read minds…so if you don’t know what they want, simply ask if they want advice, to figure out a solution, or to simply be a sounding board.  You won’t ever really know what they want unless you find out directly from them. Never assume what your friend wants.  Check-in ask what you can do to be helpful. Ask if they want to hear a few of your ideas or suggestions, and respect what your friend says they want or need. Never assume what your friend wants.
  • Phrases Used: If your partner or friend says, “I don’t know what to do,” this is a great place to ask if they’d like a few ideas or to brainstorm ideas together.  Pauses are also signs that you can share some ideas and give your feedback. Ask them if they want

    listen or give advice

    any suggestions and find out what options they have compiled.  Most people usually try problem-solving and have come up with a variety of options to deal with the stress, yet still, feel overwhelmed by the situation.  Don’t just simply toss out constructive advice if they don’t ask for it.   Ask what they have come up with for options before you overload them with problem-solving.

  • Non-Verbal Cues: Some people show the sign of simply “releasing the steam” by endless talk about the problem and hardly ever speaking of a solution.  When people discuss the problem over and over and over, this can be a sign that your friend/partner simply is looking for a sounding board.  But don’t rely on this alone, people aren’t predictable and may want help solving the problem.  Be quick to listen, slow to speak…pay attention if your friend is asking for help or simply describing a difficult situation. If your friend/partner pauses often, this might be a sign that they are looking for help or guidance.  Tell her /him that you have a few ideas and ask if they would be open to hearing the ideas.  Don’t push suggestions if she/he isn’t asking you for it.
  • Don’t GUESS What They Want: One of the biggest mistakes is to guess what your friend or partner might need.  Humans are unpredictable; we change our minds daily, hourly, minute-by-minute, and emotion-by-emotion.  So don’t guess and “try” different things each time.   Instead, stop your quick knee-jerk reaction to give advice that you think they might want or to solve the problem.  Listen to the big picture of the story.  Try to understand what they are facing, and then ask what they need.

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It’s been nearly 20 years since I first became interested in studying psychotherapy. I began practicing the scientific approaches to psychotherapy in 1997 and I was hooked from then on.

I earned my Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family psychotherapy in 2004 and I am currently licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist MFT (LMFT#47653) with the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS).

I focus my practice upon the empirically-based and proven research methods of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

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