Before You Give Advice

Here are the most important things to know before giving advice.

Posted Feb 17, 2019

What’s wrong with giving advice? Sometimes nothing. The truth is that I love to give advice. I even get paid for doing so. Advice-giving plays a valuable role in my friendships and marriage as well. Indeed, it’s a strength to be able to offer and receive advice.

But there is advice-giving—and then there is advice-giving! So, when is advice giving not helpful.

  • It’s not helpful to give advice to a person who doesn’t want it—who just wants you to listen and be present.
  • Advice-giving is also of dubious value to people who say they want your advice but consistently fail to heed it.
  • Advice is rarely helpful when we deliver it in an intense, I-know-what’s-best-for-you way. It’s fine to give advice if we recognize that we are only sharing an opinion (“In my experience, this has worked for me…” or “I see it this way…”). If you're convinced you have The Truth of the Universe you may want to get more bite marks on your tongue.
  • Advice-giving can kick relationships out of balance if we are better at giving it than receiving it. If we consider it our sacred calling to fix others, we may do less well at sharing our own vulnerability and seeing others as having something to offer in return.

In some friendships and circumstances, the most helpful thing we can do is not to be helpful. Rushing in to offer advice—like rushing in to cheer someone up—may reflect our own inability to remain emotionally present in the face of another person’s problems and pain, or to experience our own. 

If we move in too quickly with solutions, we can make it harder for others to be in touch with their own competence and inner resources, and we unwittingly rob those we love of the opportunity to feel what they are feeling and express it to us. Learning to be a caring listener and a skilled questioner can go a long way toward empowering others to find their own solutions.

Remember this: If you feel angry when the other person doesn’t follow your advice, it’s a good indication that you shouldn’t be giving it.

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