Is it just me, or is everyone an expert these days? Everyone has an opinion, or knows the best thing to do for almost anything! If they don’t, a google search gives them ten billion+ results in 0.5 seconds, so you don’t have to go too far to get advice on any problem or issue you are having. University of Michigan professor describes this phenomenon as the “democratization of expertise”, while an executive at J.D. Powers calls it “pseudoresearch,” saying “we are seeing a lot of questions being asked very inappropriately to the wrong kinds of people, and the wrong information is transmitted” (Guernsey, 2000). The New Yorker found that even people who claim to be experts, such as political pundits, were no better at making predictions than “dart-throwing monkeys, who would have distributed their picks evenly over the three choices” (Menand, 2005).
Side note: Even as I write this, I ponder my own aspirations to delve into positive psychology, mindfulness, and mental health and even starting this blog that you are reading now. I wonder sometimes if I have the right to claim anything other than wanting to share interesting things that I learn, as I learn them. I am not an expert, neither do I anticipate becoming one any time soon, but rather I am a lifelong learner, and will always find more to improve upon.
One of my main concerns with expert advice, solutions or problem-solving pertains to people sharing their feelings, or frustrations and receiving a solution in response. Solutions, in this sense, unknowingly and unwittingly invalidate people’s feelings and experiences. Many people already have the solution within themselves, and many times, all they need is to voice their frustrations or feelings and feel heard to feel better. They are opening up a side of themselves that is vulnerable.
We usually try to ignore or suppress our inner emotions, thoughts, feelings – our inner voice.
Many times, they are not even asking a question, rather they are just sharing their frustrations. So if they aren’t asking a question, why are you providing advice? Michael Singer, in the wonderful book, The Untethered Soul, asserts that one can relieve their problems just by being aware, and listening to the voice inside themselves. We usually try to ignore or suppress our inner emotions, thoughts, feelings – our inner voice. When we do allow our inner voice to emerge with someone we trust, how likely is it to resurface if told how to fix itself, instead of just being heard and accepted?
In drama and improv, there is a game called “yes, and” and it is based on the premise of acceptance. When you say yes, you are fully accepting what they are saying. Providing someone with another point of view, even playing devil’s advocate (which can be beneficial at times) can be the equivalent of saying “yes, but” and invalidating what they are saying. As an unrelenting devil’s advocate, this is a lesson that I am constantly reminding myself of, and will continue to practice each time a friend or colleague opens up about something.
Here are a few suggestions the next time someone opens up to you. Allow yourself to be fully present, and consider the following responses instead of looking for solutions and giving expert advice:
Reflect their feelings: show them that you get them, simply by reflecting back what you’re hearing them say. It doesn’t have to be a regurgitation, which could make it awkward. Rather, it changes the language, but not the message nor the meaning. If your colleague is having a stressful day, validate how overwhelming the job can be.
Practice Empathy: put yourself in their shoes, so you can feel a slice of what they are feeling. This is one of the most powerful skills to adopt and grow, and it truly just takes time, so continue to practice it. If your friend is having relationship issues and doesn’t know what to do, reflect on times that you have felt torn in two directions.
Acknowledge/Appreciate their situation: for people you are close to, you might have an idea of their personal history, and it can impact the way they are reacting to their current situation. If on top of their bad day, you know they’ve been having a bad week, or month, validate that too.
The most important thing is to be authentic, and only say things you mean, or agree with. It is possible to empathize with how someone is feeling, without agreeing with them. It is possible to sit with their feelings, and validate them, without agreeing with them.
It is possible to sit with their feelings, and validate them, without agreeing with them.
If you have ever been in the situation where you felt crappy, and then after talking to your friends, felt even worse, it could be as simple as just needing to feel validated. It might be something you unknowingly do as well. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments, or any suggestions for validating people you love when they are feeling vulnerable.