Like many of you, I’m occasionally asked for advice by friends, acquaintances, and colleagues on a variety of subjects, some quite personal. Over time, I learned to be sparing with my thoughts on other peoples’ lives and problems. Occasions on which I’ve concluded it’s in everyone’s best interest to avoid advice-giving:
- When you haven’t been asked. This one’s obvious. Unsolicited advice is rarely welcome, and virtually never followed. So why bother?
- When you suspect someone doesn’t actually want your advice, or intend to take it. It’s a bit of a mystery why someone would go to the trouble of seeking out advice, only to turn around and reject it– either openly or in secret. Truth is, they just wanted you to agree with their viewpoint. They’re certainly not interested in any contrary input.
- When you’ve seen the same person repeatedly seek advice on the same things from others. There are those who make the rounds, seeking advice from a variety of people, yet somehow never putting it into action. Perhaps they were simply seeking attention. If that’s the case, there are better ways to get it.
You may not have all the info you need to give good advice. This is extremely common. People with problems tend to hold back important details. They may decide it isn’t relevant or necessary. As I said of one individual, “He’s put me on a need-to-know basis, and apparently there isn’t much he thinks I need to know.”
You may inadvertently take sides. This happens all the time in families where there are interpersonal conflicts. Any feedback you give to one person is distorted when communicated to others. Pretty soon people are coming up to you to complain about you for interfering in their relationships.
Twelve Step members learn to share their own experiences or cite lessons from the program literature instead of giving advice to newcomers. The all-time champions at not giving advice are probably therapists, who may dodge even the most reasonable of patient questions. That’s because they suspect it can interfere with the therapeutic process. Here’s an article by a psychologist on how: