by Andrea M. Darcy
We are a “how to” society these days, bombarded with do-it-yourself videos and TV shows, self-help books, and advice columns.
The knock-on effect is that many of us freely dish out unasked for advice without even realising that we are doing so – or what negative affects this might be creating.
5 ways giving advice damages relationships
Here are five reasons why unasked for advice can be the worst thing when it comes to relationships.
1. Advice is actually a form of judgement over support.
You might think you are being helpful by offering unsolicited advice, but giving your opinion freely actually says to another, ‘I don’t think you are smart enough to find your own answers.’
2. Giving advice stops others from learning and growing.
Giving advice is a hidden way of making assumptions about another person. You are assuming that they don’t have the personal resources to find answers within themselves. This stops the other person from taking the time to look within and listen to themselves, or even find their own resources at all. Which they do have – we all do.
You are also stopping any kind of creative brainstorming that might lead to you actually learning a thing or too yourself.
3. The advice that might seem right to you is often wrong for another.
Advice assumes that your perspective is the right one and the way you see things will work perfectly for others. But you have had a unique set of experiences that might be very different than the other person’s.
So while it might seem perfectly logic to you that your friend quit her job because her boss has been rude, you might have had a successful life that means you navigate conflict easily. Your friend, on the other hand, might need the opportunity to stay put and break a longstanding pattern of not communicating her needs and boundaries in the workplace.
4. Advice closes instead of opens communication.
It might feel that offering your unsolicited opinion will open the door for creative, mind-expanding discussion on how your ideas can improve the life of the other person. But you’ll find more often than not the conversation ends or the other person changes the topic because they feel judged and feel defensive.
5. Advice is often selfish and pushes people away.
The truth is that we rarely give advice out of a desire to help others. If we truly wanted to do that, we’d instead develop good listening skills.
The real reason most of us give advice is that we want to feel better about ourselves. We want to feel wise, useful, powerful, or like our own experiences have had a purpose.
Or, worse, we are using ‘giving advice’ to hurt the other person or passive aggressively express our anger. “You know, if I was you, I’d buy a small calendar just for putting everyone’s birthdays in, but then again I’m not the type to go and forget birthdays of those I apparently love”.
The result of all your great unsolicited advice is….?
So in summary, even if you think you give great advice (which can be helpful if it’s asked for!) is that if it’s unasked for, it instead might have the effect of:
- pushing people away
- stopping people from trusting you
- diminishing others self-esteem
- stopping others from making good decisions
- leaving others seeing you as arrogant
- leaving you feeling lonely.
What should I do instead of giving advice?
So what is better than advice? Try the below.
Listen properly. Only focus on what the other person is saying, without an agenda or need to bring your own experiences to the conversation.
Ask good questions. Be wary of ‘why’ questions, which cause someone to look backwards, get lost in self-reflection, and perhaps feel judged. For example, ‘why did you take a job you don’t like’ feels critical and would cause someone to anxiously examine their past. Try ‘what’ or ‘how’ instead – ‘what does your ideal job look like, and how can you find such elements already in the job you have?’ encourages the other to look forward and see things positively.
Offer unconditional positive regard. This is a psychological term that refers to the notion of creating a space of acceptance and non-judgement for another whether or not we agree with their choices or actions. The great thing about unconditional positive regard is that it recognises the other person has their own set of resources, even if you can’t quite see them.
Learn to empathise instead of sympathise. A lot of unsolicited advice is often sympathy in disguise. and sympathy is thinly disguised pity – “I feel sorry for you because you are in a difficult place beneath where I myself am”. Empathy, means you merely try to understand the others viewpoint and struggles without any inner comparison. [For more on this, read our article on empathy vs sympathy.]
Give your ideas in an open-ended way and only when they are asked for. Advice does have its time and place, and that is always when it is asked for. If someone does ask you for your opinion, however, try to couch it in the language of openness. Don’t ever imply one answer is right to the inclusion of all other options, make it clear what you suggest is only your viewpoint, and ask them what they think of your opinion. You might end up receiving some useful feedback in return.
Can you think of another result of giving advice that is not so desirable? Or have a story about giving advice you’d like to share? Do so below.
Andrea M. Darcy is a health writer and a mentor who loves writing about relationships. Find her @am_darcy