The Best Advice

About 20 years ago I wrote a series for The Type Reporter called “Older and Wiser.” I interviewed four people in the type community who were over 60 years old, and asked them questions about their type development. The last question I asked them was, “If you could give advice to a young person of your type, what would it be?”

I was thinking about that series the other day and I suddenly realized, I’m 60! It’s my turn to be “older and wiser.” What advice would I give to a young INFJ?

I didn’t have to think very long. The most useful thing I have learned in my life was right on the tip of my tongue. It’s great advice, not only for an INFJ, but for any person, of any age, of any type.

The best advice I can give is… don’t give advice.

I have to give myself this advice at least once a day. Whenever I hear someone describe a problem they are having in their life, it pains me because I care about them. I want to give them some relief, so I start thinking about how to solve their problem. My husband might be having trouble with a client, my daughter might be miffed at her friend, or my friend might be complaining because she’s gaining weight. Right away, I’m trying to crank out a solution for them, hoping it will ease their pain.  

Around the subject of type, people often ask questions like, “What can I tell my ISFP friend who is in a dysfunctional relationship with her husband?” “What can I tell my ESFJ wife who is having problems with her co-workers?” “What can I tell my INTJ friend who is always arguing with his teen-aged daughter?” Like me, they want to give people the “gift” of advice, and they are hoping that the type theory will help them do that better. 

But I have learned - and it took many years to learn this – that advice, even type-specific advice, does not give people relief from their pain. It may even add to it, because it makes them feel like children who have to be told what to do.

What really helps troubled people is to know that they are not alone inside their heads, that they can externalize their problems and other people will listen and understand what they are going through. It’s the simple act of sharing their problems that brings the most emotional relief. Then they can begin the challenging business of solving the problem themselves.   

I’ve learned that when I’m listening to a person tell me their troubles, instead of communicating advice, I should just communicate understanding of what they are going through, saying, for example,  “That sounds frustrating,” “That’s a tough situation.” Or “I’m so sorry that happened to you.”

But it’s hard to keep my cool when I’m listening to anxious people, because I “catch” their anxiety. When my daughter was going through a difficult period in her life, I realized that I had to find some words to tell myself when I was listening to her, something that would calm me down and give me some distance from her problems. After many experiments, I finally came up with a little mantra that works like a charm.  When I’m listening to someone and I’m anxiously trying to come up with a solution to their problem, I tell myself…

1. THIS IS THEIR PROBLEM.
Of course it is. Their problems make them who they are. They have to use all of their powers to rise above them, but when they do, they feel like they’ve accomplished something. When I try to solve people’s problems for them, I am inadvertently getting in the way of them mastering their own fate. 

2. THEY CAN HANDLE IT.
I don’t know why, but my first reaction to people’s pain is “They can’t handle it!” I have to remind myself that they can. They have brains, natural gifts, life experience, and a world full of resources to help them. I can relax because they have everything they need.  

3. IT WILL BE INTERESTING TO SEE HOW THEY DO. 
There are as many ways to solve a problem as there are people on the earth, and it can be fun to watch the way other people do it, especially if you know type and can see patterns. For example, my ESFP sister always wants to do something right away about her problems, while my ISFJ daughter needs to think a long time about them first. My ENTP husband always sees them as a chance to accomplish great things, and I always want to gain a new insight about people from them. 

So that’s my advice. Don’t give advice. Instead, tell yourself…

This is their problem. They can handle it. It will be interesting to see how they do.

 

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  1. JeniRae

    #1 by JeniRae - September 12, 2011 at 1:31 PM

    This is some sound advice. I have been sought out for advice MANY TIMES by friends and family, and the best advice I find that I can provide is not actually "advice" at all. It is simply providing the opportunity for others to talk through the problem in a non-judgmental setting, and allowing them the freedom to self-discover the solutions on their own.
    Regardless of type preferences, people often surprise themselves when they realize that THEY ALREADY KNOW THE ANSWERS.

    I am very interested in your article series from "The Type Reporter." Is this archived online anywhere?
    I had written articles for "The Bulletin of Psychological Type" a decade ago from the opposite perspective- of someone who was younger and at the early stages of type-development. (I was 22 at the time.)

    I am planning on starting a Type-blog of my own, and this is a topic I do want to touch on.
    Thank you for the article!

    ~~ JeniRae // NeTi
  2. Susan Scanlon

    #2 by Susan Scanlon - September 29, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    JeniRae,

    Thank you for you comments on the blog about not giving advice. It's interesting that your type is ENTP. That is my husband's type, and I learned the most about "providing an opportunity for others to talk their problem in a non-judgmental setting" from him. It's what he's great at.

    The series that I mentioned was called "Older and Wiser." I did a later series, however, called "The Gift of Listening" which is more about the topic. They are both available from www.typereporter.com

    I would like to see your blog, if you would let me know when you get it started.
  3. Capture His Heart Reviews

    #3 by Capture His Heart Reviews - March 12, 2014 at 12:47 PM

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about
    this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do
    with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is fantastic blog.
    A great read. I'll certainly be back.
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