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Yonasan Bender
Psychotherapist and Clinical Director of Jerusalem Therapy

What Do People Really Want When They Ask for Advice

What Do People Really Want When They Ask For Advice

This is going to sound a little funny coming from someone who writes an advice column. But, here it goes anyway. It is a bad idea to give people advice when they come to you with a problem. Well, at least at first. If you think back to the last time you went to someone for advice you really two different questions. One was explicit. The problem you needed a solution to. That question was fully articulated in your head and it’s what you ended up saying. The other question was implicit. It was a question you couldn’t quite put your finger on and it made you nervous. Sure, the words leaving your mouth were, “Hey, do you have a minute? I’m trying to work out this issue. I could really use your advice.” But the implicit question that was chewing on your heart was, “Despite having this problem, am I ‘OK’? Am I still a decent person in your eyes? Do I still belong despite this issue?”

Sticking with that memory, I’m willing to bet the person you asked advice from gave you excellent advice. It was probably even something you yourself would have come up with on your own given the chance. But immediately after hearing it, you felt a little embarrassed.  Maybe you even hoped beyond hope you could figure out how to change the subject as smoothly as possible. You were helped but were still left with the implicit question. When someone comes to us for advice and we don’t answer the, “Am I still OK?” problem, it’s going to feel like the answer is, “No!”

When someone you care about comes to you for advice, stop. Lean into the person and not the problem. Don’t solve the problem right off the bat. Make it clear to them that their problem does not make them a problem. Validate them by saying it sounds really difficult what they are going through. Normalize the issue by letting them know you’ve faced a similar, if not the same, problem yourself. Maybe even throw in how you yourself felt embarrassed when you asked for help. Answer the implicit question first – “I really care about you. I’m sorry you have to sort out that hair ball of a problem. Don’t worry, I got your back.” The landing on this is key. Pause. Let the message sink in. Say it a few more times. When you see the other guy’s shoulders calmly drop only then move into solution mode.

About the Author
Yonasan Bender is a psychotherapist and the clinical director of Jerusalem Therapy. He is a graduate of Hebrew University’s Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare. He completed post graduate training in a wide array of therapeutic approaches ranging from CBT to Psychodynamic therapies. Before Hebrew University, he studied at Washington University in St. Louis and Drake University. Yonasan majored in philosophy and ethics. Yonasan is a member of the Association For Contextual Behavioral Science. He’s a key member of the clinical team at The Place, the Jerusalem Centre for Emotional Wellbeing. Yonasan has collaborated with other mental health organizations like Machon Dvir as a Dialectical Behavioral Therapist skills trainer. He’s also served a group leader for the National Educational Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder’ Family Connections program. He specializes in treating anxiety, depression, anger, poor self-esteem, insomnia, psychosis, autism, personality disorders, and marital conflict. He has an extensive background working with individuals, couples, families, and children.
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