Especially during a life transition, you may have noticed that some days you feel great, energized, like you can get anything done, and you have plenty of positive energy to share with others around you.  And other days….you feel like a block of concrete.

[You will see me use the term “advisor” in this and other posts.  It is my generic term for therapists, life coaches, career counsellors, friends, bloggers, self-appointed experts (heh):  anybody who takes it upon themselves to support another individual in their process, whether they get paid for it or not.]

When you are in a down phase, you’re just not using the resources available to you.  You may literally not even see them.  Everything looks impossible.  The well-intentioned mistake I think a lot of advisors make at that point is to see what works for others – taking action and using resources – and then repeatedly urge the downster to get out there and use those resources.  Perfectly logical.  After all, it works for other people.  But that’s not necessarily what the person in a down phase needs.  Not at that point.  (The majority of challenges in advice-giving result not from untruth, but poor timing.)

My observation and experience is that if advisors do not first meet someone where they are at emotionally, the person will not really be listening.  They hear the words, but shut off, or tune out.  They might look polite, but inside they are not able to make use of what you’re saying.  What I mean by “meeting them where they are at” includes empathic listening.  Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication is a good resource here, but I prefer Elaine Aron’s “attunement” process described in The Undervalued Self.  Simple, difficult, and rare.

Anything other than meeting the client where he or she is at, subtly preserves the dominant/subordinate dynamic between advisor and advisee, i.e. “I know what’s best for you better than you do”. 

So you might wonder, what’s the problem with that?  Maybe the advisor does know better!  The problem is, most people resent the implication that they don’t know, and will therefore resist the advice given.  (I believe they resist it because deep down inside, they know their own truth and answers, although they may not be consciously aware why they resist.)

True, one needs to have some degree of faith in the process, and the advisor.  Otherwise, why consult someone?   However, the advising process is more effective when it honours the individual and their autonomy, or more importantly their inner knowing of what is right for them in that moment. 

Imagine what society would be like if we revered each others’ wisdom, and each person’s knowing what is right for them in the moment, even if it looks unappealing from the outside.  This is not to justify self- and other-harming behaviours, it is to really try to understand other human beings.