5 Reasons Why I Try not to Give Advice

There was a time not too long ago where if you had told me any challenge or problem you were facing, I would have jumped in and tried to “fix” it with an immediate solution to your problem and a lecture which included all my supporting logic and thoughts.  Although I often do not have solutions to my own cavernous problems (and would not call myself an “expert” on most things) I would not hesitate to tell you how to go about fixing yourself. Dispensing advice is still a huge temptation for me, but I’ve been working on curbing this impulse.

I’ve touched on this topic before in my post on empathy, but have some more thoughts on why jumping in to “fix” problems is not a great approach in relationships.

  1. Dispensing advice is often more about me than the other person: although on the surface I’m trying to be helpful I think it’s more about me. Giving people solid and thoughtful advice makes me feel better about myself. It’s also self-righteous, unconsciously sending the message that I don’t think you have it under control and that you aren’t “good enough” to deal with the problem. My eagerness is about showing that I am an expert, intelligent, and insightful more than understanding you or your situation. I’m putting myself up on a pedestal saying that I understand the problem and situation more than you. I’ve also noticed my own hypocrisy in that the advice I tend to dole out is also more often than not advice I’ve refused or ignored when offered to me. I feel that my tendency to rush in and try to fix things is a reflection of my insecurity and discomfort at being present with pain and feelings, both my own and others.
  1. That’s probably not all the facts: I recognize that I only ever have one version of the events. You’ve told me your perception of what’s happening, but let’s be real! We all have a tendency to frame things in a way that suits our bias. If the issue is not flattering, we omit things or spin them in a way that avoids responsibility. Understanding this very human self-preservation instinct, I know that I am basing my judgement, reaction, and advice on a partial story. No matter how good my advice is, there’s no way that it is fair or complete because the facts presented are probably not either.
  1. Solving problems builds confidence: getting yourself out of a bind, figuring it out, and succeeding despite adversity are all incredible confidence builders. As much as it may seem like I am helping by sharing my cleverness and insight, there is a chance that by providing overly detailed and forceful instruction I am robbing you of a powerful and necessary learning and growth experience. There is also always a decent chance that I am way off side, and shouldn’t subject you to my bias.
  1. I don’t need to face the consequences: I know this is something I have not given any thought in the past. I was so caught up in “fixing” that I didn’t appreciate the simple fact that I would not have to deal with the fallout and consequences of the advice I was providing. I’m embarrassed at the drastic and pointed advice that I’ve offered over the years that called for intense and total life overhauls with no pause for how jarring those changes would be. I told people that this was the only solution to their problem with no appreciation of the level of commitment, drive, and perseverance implementing those actions would take to make them successful. In other words, making matter of fact and preachy suggestions about how people live their life was a real douche canoe move.
  1. They may not take my advice, and may think less of me for it: despite my good intentions, how clever and insightful I think I might be, I recognize that people only really accept advice when they are ready. In the wrong state, they may not agree or they may not be ready even if it is genuinely the best course of action. I understand that if I catch someone in one of those moments there is a great chance that my advice will not be well received. They may resent or ignore me totally which in turn makes me feel like underappreciated garbage. Further, advice is rarely helpful if it is delivered in an intense I-know-what’s-best kind of way. I know we are all attracted to the idea of tough love but, in all but the most dire situations, delivering advice in this manner makes people defensive, defiant, and closed; therefore, totally unlikely to take the advice anyway.  I also recognize that when I get angry at other people for not taking my advice it is an indication that I should not be giving it in the first place as it suggests that my actions are weighted on my expectations for things beyond my control rather than openness to the best outcome.

The deep irony of this situation is that the best way to give someone advice is often by not giving it at all. It’s by showing curiosity and really listening; by offering them a safe space to talk about the problem without fear of judgement. This is essentially what therapy and counselling provides. A good practitioner will serve as a guide to connect you with the answers you already have but are having trouble accessing. It’s shocking how often saying something aloud and talking it through with someone who is supportive and open to listening will be all that is needed for the person to find the solution. It is worth resisting the temptation to provide immediate solutions in favour of supporting those we care about in finding their own. I acknowledge, this may not always be possible. There are occasions where it is appropriate and needed to offer thoughts and advice but this is something I’m trying to approach more delicately. I don’t regret putting more effort into developing authentic and deep listening skills and allowing other people to share in a compassionate space.

8 thoughts on “5 Reasons Why I Try not to Give Advice

  1. Jerry Klippenstein

    First of all, epic fail with 5 advice tips on why advice isn’t good.🤯😁😉 Also, “making matter of fact and preachy suggestions about how people live their life was a real douche canoe move”- is actually a preachy suggestion. Yes, I’m ok with giving advice (I just did, it wasn’t asked for, and I didn’t use the positive/negative/positive “sandwich” method). Being male, the “fixing” thing is either hardwired or strongly socialized in me from generations ago. Here’s the thing- as human beings, we need each other. If we really were “enough”, groups and clubs and organizations would be irrelevant. While I agree with the reasons for not giving advice, my ADHD means I have coping strategies which aren’t always healthy. Traditional dialectical reflecting therapy methods don’t work for me. I’m unfortunately smart enough to sabotage conversations by using manipulation (another potential reason for giving advice). While healthy boundaries are essential and sometimes people should be allowed to receive natural consequences, out of respect for their independence, I need to connect, otherwise why talk to anyone? The greatest damage has been done with men by bullying them into not discussing their problems. And yes, I’m aware my advice says more about me as a person. That’s why I intentionally spoke personally, rather than saying “you should” without including my experience.😉

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    1. Oh Jerry. I intentionally wrote this from my own perspective, like all my posts, because I hope to leave it up to the audience to decide if it applies to them or not. This is a reflection of myself, not anyone else or their motives for offering advice. I do, however, think that we could all benefit from developing more active listening skills.

      I’m sorry for your challenges, and I also agree that we discourage people (and yes, probably moreso men) from talking about their problems. This isn’t right. We do need to connect and engage with others in order to work through. I don’t think I suggested not sharing? There is tremendous value in saying things out loud – I go into this often in my other posts. I do believe it’s almost impossible to improve any mental health challenge in a vacuum.

      I will say, my own relationships have improved by me inserting small pauses to examine my motives and if it will really add value to the conversation for me to jump in with my “ultimate” solution. Which is usually how I present it.. as the ONLY way (I still think this is pretty douchy).

      But to each their own! We all need to find our own dance moves and our own ways of making those healthy connections.

      Appreciate your thoughts. 🙂

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      1. Jerry Klippenstein

        Profound apologies for miscommunication!!!!🙄🤦🏼‍♂️ I did not intend to passive-aggressively say that you did NOT speak personally. You always do, and that’s why I appreciate your wisdom. It comes from a real place. I hadn’t taken my meds yet this morning, so I apologize if I came off angry. I am merely concerned with the isolation that can happen with the “you are enough” movement. Good on ya!

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      2. I didn’t take offence! Although I had to reply mindfully given the red cape you were waving! 🤣😜

        I assumed we were bantering, incidentally one of the things I like most about our interactions. I appreciate that you speak from your own perspective and that you have a lot of unique ideas. It challenges me to cross my Ts and dot my Is, in a great way! I’d hate to think I’m up on my soap box indulging all that self righteousness I love so dearly…

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  2. Love your blog. Stumbled upon it yesterday and read through archives. Can relate to a lot of stuff resulting from a parental house. Like your approach. It was good to read certain things like “recovery is lonely”, also all moments where you realize that you just can’t solve certain problem for someone else.

    For me it was the realization that I just can’t make my mom happy. It absolutely doesn’t matter how “successful” I am, how thin I am, if I am solo or in relationship or any societal metrics of “good life” or things that she tells me. She is never happy and especially never happy with me. This realization that it is not on me, it is not under my control, I can’t change it no matter what I do was huuuge step for me to finding peace.

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    1. Hi Lapka,

      I appreciate your comment and your share. It can be a very lonely and confusing process with an uncertain timeline. I’ve found it interesting in myself that I both crave uncertainty and fear it in equal measure. I suppose that’s the war between what is comfortable and knowing what is good for me.

      It’s hard to let go of the need for the validation we never got. It’s empowering to realize we can give it to ourselves. I’m glad you are also well on your way!

      Thank you for finding me and reaching out.

      Jess

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