Advice: Helpful or Hurtful?

Yes, we’re going there today. Advice: the single most important thing you want to say to another person or more often Advice: the thing you try to ignore from well-meaning but out-of-touch friends or family. Yes, there is a time when giving advice is helpful to another person, but how often do we give it?  Sometimes it’s best to look for other options in conversations with the people we care about.

When does advice become toxic?

Most advice is well-intended. I know from my experience that whenever I want to give advice, it comes from a place of compassion. But often, I find that the kindest or most compassionate thing to do is to treat others with the same dignity and respect that we would want for ourselves. I know how tempting it is to give advice. However, advice can become toxic when we prioritize giving advice over letting that person have their own autonomy over their situation. 

That extraordinary feeling of being right, smart, or more experienced can be almost addicting. When you prioritize those feelings over empathy for that person is when you have gone too far. And hey, I have on many occasions gone too far on the advice train and mowed down many a friend or loved one in my day, and I can’t say that it won’t happen again. We are human. But when you know you’ve messed up the most important thing to do is to apologize and try your damnedest to do better in the future. 

When advice is appropriate

Did this person ask for your advice? Consent is what matters.

Often giving advice is seen as empowering a person with knowledge, but instead, it disempowers a person’s right to their own choices. If they ask for it, they are choosing to listen to you, but after that, it’s on them. if they don’t follow through with our advice we can’t tell them, “I told you so.” That’s just weaponizing your advice when a person is the most vulnerable. 

How do we stop giving advice?

Learn what you value about others and yourself. Do you value compassion, respect, and autonomy? Perhaps remember that before letting a “well I think you should…” come out of your mouth.  What might also work for you is something that has helped me: reminding myself that for people to grow they have to find their solutions. I will never have all the answers.

What other ways can we help?

Support comes in a variety of ways. That person might just want to stop and take a deep breath and process or maybe even have a solution to the problem that might suit their needs better. So here are a few helpful examples of what you can start to implement instead of just going into giving people advice.

  • What would be helpful to you right now?” 
  • “If a friend were to  have X issue, how would you try to help them?”
  • “What are your options?”
  • “If you were able to do X, what would change?”
  • “What resources are available to you?”
  • “What have you tried in the past that has worked for you?”

This gives a chance for conversation, and problem-solving. You can let people talk out what they are feeling and what they plan to do. It affirms autonomy and reinforces a person’s choice.

So now that you know some of the reasons why advice isn’t always the most helpful, how will you support a loved one? comment down below.

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