“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15 MEV). This seems like a no brainer, but how often do we miss the opportunity to bolster a relationship when we offer a shoulder to lean on or a congratulatory pat on the back? Instead, too often, we jump in immediately to offer advice.
Recently, an article I wrote was published by a magazine with a large readership. Not long after, I noticed someone who had been in a position of leadership from my youth had written a comment on my Facebook wall about my article. I hadn’t heard from him in years. It could have been an opportunity for reconnection, unfortunately it wasn’t. As I read his comment, I was disappointed that after years of no contact, rather than a congratulatory note for my article, it was a correction over what he considered an error in my teaching. Rather than rejoicing with me, he offered correction from a place of almost no relationship.
Another very different instance occurred after I shared with a friend a business transaction I had just completed. Before I could even finish with the details, my friend immediately jumped in to offer advice. This friend’s insights, although very good, were based on an assumption that hadn’t occurred. My buddy’s heart was well-meaning, but the instruction didn’t fit the situation simply because there was no pause to listen.
How often do we make that same mistake? As a parent, I can say I do it probably too often. I can remember a time my daughter commented to me after I had offered advice into a school scenario.
“Mom, why can’t I just share the story with you? It was funny. That was all. I thought it would make you laugh. Why does everything have to be a teaching moment with you?”
The very thing that had just happened to me in the two instances above, I recognize I have done with my own children, and I’m sure with my husband and others on a multitude of occasions. So how can we improve in this area when our intentions are well meaning?
Applying wisdom through contemplation
In our busy schedules, we often want to quickly offer a “fix” when wisdom would dictate a pause. “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him” (Proverbs 18:13 MEV). When we hold back a response to listen intently and even ponder how or if we should respond, we are more apt to hit the mark with a response that is helpful.
To build up and strengthen our relationships, here are five important steps we can follow:
1. Listen fully before speaking.
James 1:19 says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” We need to write that on our bathroom mirror, don’t we?
If we will listen to the end of a story or read to the end of an article, we will gain insight and perspective that will answer the questions or concerns that may have initially arisen. Has what was said or written has aroused us to anger? Most definitely that is a time to pause, take a deep breath and refrain from comment until we can return to a place of calm. In those moments, we should ask for clarity and better understanding before stepping in to offer advice.
2. Not everything needs to be a teachable moment.
Whether it is our children, our spouse, or a friend, when others share a story with us, we should listen out of relationship rather than authority. We often times miss the humor or joy of a situation when we feel we must teach into each situation or offer advice. It is actually a form of pride when we determine that we have something to interject in every situation. It suggests that we know better than they. Unsolicited advice can cause frustration, hurt and even anger. We can lose an opportunity of shared camaraderie and the deepening of trust when we choose to speak instead of listen. Whether it is a time to rejoice, or mourn we would do well to listen without comment to the heart of the one sharing.
3. Ask before offering insight.
Before we offer the advice swirling in our brain, we need to ask if the individual is open to insight. Sometimes your friend may simply need a sounding board. I know there are times I simply want to share a situation with my husband; I’m not asking him to “fix it.” Instead my desire is simply that he will listen and offer a sympathetic ear. Sometimes after I feel I have been heard, I will ask him for advice. Sometimes I won’t. Sometimes it’s a comfort just to know that he knows what I experienced.
Our children often feel that way. As they become adults, we have to take our hands off and simply listen, offering advice only if it is requested. That can be tough. Relationship is strengthened when we are willing to simply hold the information close and let them know they’ve been heard.
4. Speak to the level of the relationship.
Relationship is what gives an open door to offer correction and insight. Parents, teachers, and friends speak into our lives when they fill their role as leaders, protectors and providers. If there is no relationship, then we need to exercise caution if we choose to jump in to speak a word of correction. As in the case of my former leader, it had been over thirty years since I had seen or heard from him. It hardly provided a platform to offer correction out of the blue when there had been no ongoing relationship.
5. Be emotionally present.
This last step is probably the most important. Simply love and choose to be emotionally present. This means fully listening and being engaged. We choose to love no matter what is shared. We may not always agree with what we hear, but that doesn’t mean we need to immediately wade into those waters with advice. Wisdom in relationships comes from understanding when to listen, when to speak and when we should simply pray.
The simple instruction to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn holds great wisdom. Joining in to laugh with, congratulate or encourage someone is always appropriate. Offering a shoulder to cry on and a warm hug can at times be greater medicine the most well intentioned advice.
And when we are able to close our mouth and open our ears and our hearts, we create trust that will often open the door for us to offer that well-meaning piece of advice.
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Karen Hardin is a literary agent, published author and marketing guru. She has been in the Christian publishing industry for 25 years and has had the privilege of working on numerous projects for some of the most recognized names in the industry. Her work has appeared in “USA Today,” Crosswalk.com, “World Net Daily,” “The Christian Post,” and more. Helping individuals take their writing to the next level and get their projects and products into the marketplace are her passion. For additional information go to: www.prioritypr.org.