God's Geek

Reflections and random thoughts of a geeky youth worker in North London...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Passing on advice - a dilemma

Following on from a bit of a false start caused by a lovely sickness bug, I ended up getting to Youthwork the conference a day late. I had a great time though, and despite my endeavours to take it easy as I was both recovering from illness and I am now 6 months pregnant, I seemed to fit in quite a lot. One of the sessions I went to was on reflective listening. It was excellent, with great content and presentation. However, something was mentioned that keeps cropping up and I am not sure what I think. It was the idea that our role as youth workers is not to give advice. In fact, with regards to relfective listening, it is a big no-no.

I went to the session as I know that I do not always listen well enough and I am too quick to offer my opinion, whether in relation to youth work or chatting with friends. And I am well aware of the dangers of youth workers having an undue, unhealthy influence on the young people that they work, albeit intentionally or not. It is also very dodgy when people feel the need to tell others what to do when they do not really know them, or the other person doesn't trust them. It is absolutely right that young people are given the space and time to make up their own minds about things and do not feel pressured into certain ideologies or decisions as a result of the youth peer group or youth leader. And vulnerable young people are at risk of becoming co-dependent, which youth workers need to be aware of.

However, at the same time I think there is space to offer and accept advice in all areas of life, including when working with young people. I am worried that to shy away from offering advice puts too much pressure on the individual. Do we really have all of the answers within? This may be an unfair representation of reflective listening, but the idea is that by listening and reflecting back to a young person, they can think through their own situation and come up with their own way forward. But in my own life, I am not sure that this is always the case. I need other people, not just to listen to me, but I want to learn from their experience and hear their perspective. I certainly don't act upon every bit of advice I am given, but there are some people that I really trust and I want - need their input.

I think it goes deeper than this. I think God calls for us to be together, to learn together, to support one another, to be in community and need each other. This is part of why Christians are called to be church; true church is about vulnerability, honesty and a move away from self-reliance and reliance not just on God but each other. In Proverbs 27:17, it says, 'as iron sharpens iron, one man [sic] sharpens another.' Sometimes when we are in a relationship that is based on mutual trust and respect, we need to say and hear challenging things. We need to think of things from a new angle. We need to admit we don't have all of the answers and talk things through with someone else that doesn't have all of them either, but can help us see things differently. We need to hear things we don't like.

And this is risky and at times dangerous. The things we say can be taken the worng way. We may mis-read a situation. But it doesn't mean that we shouldn't do it, adn I think that this applies to youth work as well.

I am still thinking through this, but this is where my thoughts are at the moment. I would really value any thoughts or feedback.


Blogger Phil said...

surely theres a need for both. i mean, we listen in different contexts. young people have different needs, and we can meet some of them and not others. sometimes a young person needs to be listened to, to have someone be truly present to them, not judging them, not junmping down their throat with advice, just giving them a space to open up and listen to themselves, and listen to God within them. BUT sometimes a young person needs advice, they need guidance.

maybe part of our role is to work out what need it is that needs meeting at a particular point.....

i don't know. just some thoughts that have come straight from reading what you wrote

9:59 PM  
Blogger Weird Hippy said...

I tend to agree with your thoughts and Phil's. Yes there is time for thoughts and advice, there are times just to let people vent and there are times to help yp weigh up the options. To coin a phrase it's about being completely present to that yp at the time and see where it leads.

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Joanne Fetzer said...

The seminar on reflective listening that you attended sounds wonderful! I think we all need to learn WHEN it is time to listen and WHEN it is time to give advice. It's important to remember NOT to give advice UNTIL we have listened. Otherwise, we might be advising on the "presenting problem" and not the "real issue." We'll never know until we use reflective listening for a period of time with that individual. Even if we err on the side of listening too much (is that possible?!) it will surely help to compensate for all the times we gave advice without listening at all!
My husband and I wrote a book on this topic which you might find helpful as a resource tool and a follow-up to this seminar. It's called "Please Listen to Me! A Christian's Guide to Reflective Listening." It's not a text-book and is an easy read. It's published by WinePress Books here in the U.S. and they do ship overseas: www.WinePressBooks.com

Since you are in the U.K. I know that Eden carries it at http://www.eden.co.uk/shop/search.php?category_id=&keyword=Dick+Fetzer&x=23&y=8
The author is Dick Fetzer.

Would love to know what you think if you read it!

12:43 PM  

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