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Dear Caroline,

Last week I had lunch with a friend, and she steered the conversation to her work problems. It struck me that she couldn’t see the forest for the trees, so at a certain point, I interrupted her and told her exactly what to do. For some reason, she seemed to be a little bit hurt and offended. I don’t understand why. Obviously, she needed a solution to her problems, and I gave her one.

Am I missing something?

…Miffed in Morelos

Dear Miffed,

I understand the desire to be direct when giving advice. After all, I write an advice column. However, in my everyday life, I don’t approach advice-giving in the same direct manner.

Next time someone tells you their problems, try following these advice-giving steps.

1) Let them talk. Don’t interrupt them.

2) Say, “I understand.”

3) If you don’t have advice for them, all you have to say is, “I’m sorry to hear that.”

4.) If you want to offer advice, preface it with, “Hmmm, I have a thought. What if you were to (fill in the blank)?”

This approach couches your advice more gently and gives your friend the option of taking it or leaving it.

However, chronic complainers who see every conversation as an opportunity to sing variations of the same sad song fall into a different category. When they’re done talking, I suggest you say, “I’m sorry to hear that again. I know you’ve been dealing with that issue for quite some time. Tell me, what are you doing about it?”

If they don’t have an answer, you can either gently give them advice or say, “I’m sorry. I can’t help you,” and then suggest they find a counselor or therapist.

Hope this helps.


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