Offering advice: is it truly helpful?


Do you know how everybody has a word they dislike?  Many pick ‘moist’ for some reason. Mine is ‘advice.’ It’s not because of the form or pronunciation, but because its meaning annoys me. Imposing one’s views onto others is something most people do out of the will to help, but does it work? I feel like it does more harm than good for several reasons I will detail later.

For starters, let’s discuss the following scenario: you had a shitty week, full of deadlines, and you’re exhausted. You have to pay the rent soon, but you used the money on an unforeseen expense. You turn to your best friend, looking for a bit of sympathy, but you haven’t even stopped talking, and they are already telling you stuff like:

‘You should ask your parents to lend you some money.’
‘You should move somewhere less expensive.’
‘That’s no big deal, here’s what you have to do (proceeds to give you useless ideas).’

It doesn’t feel nice, eh? Now think about all the times when you’ve done precisely the same when somebody has come to vent to you, and you cut them off with a piece of advice they didn’t ask for.

Why is offering advice not actually helpful?

When I started studying psychology, the first thing I learned is that nobody is entitled to offer advice, especially not a mental health professional. This idea applies in daily interactions and relationships for some reasons:

  • It minimizes the person’s emotional experience.

When somebody opens their soul in front of you, and you rush to offer a bit of advice, you overlook the person. Maybe they weren’t even looking for a solution, but for a shoulder to sob on or somebody to simply listen to them ranting.

  • You can’t fully experience what another person goes through.

Not even the most empathic person can fully know the circumstances of other’s problems. Therefore, no matter how much you’d like to help, you can never make a fully informed decision that will benefit your troubled friend. Everybody has to choose on their own. The most you can do for them is to listen to their options if they want to share them with you.

  • Deep down, most people already know what they have to do. They aren’t just ready to act yet.

People are resourceful: when confronted with a problem, they quickly decide which road to take, even if it’s not a well-fleshed-out plan. But when people share their concerns with their close ones and receive advice from them, it causes a clash of perspectives. When the situation arises, it’s safer to ask if they have some ideas to avoid conflicts.

To be truly supportive, replace ‘advice’ with ‘help’ 

We all want to be of assistance when we see somebody having a hard time. The question is how we do that – and the decision belongs to the person we are trying to help. Some people need emotional comfort when dealing with a problem; others want to discuss their plans with somebody. Your views of what’s helpful might differ, so here’s a simple tip to save you both all the trouble:

Ask them what they need from you: just listen to them, share your views on the matter, or help them find a solution. This way, you know how you can support them better.

I used to give unsolicited advice too until somebody paid me back with the same coin. It made me realize this is not working for me, so it might not work for others. Therefore, I started paying attention to the people around me, asking them how I could support them or improve their situation. Genuine concern, the availability to help, and sincerity are more valuable than a piece of advice.

If you want to improve your social interactions, check out this article!



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