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Why We Should Resist the Urge to Give Advice

By Debbie Mandel

Many of our relationships are fraught with tension: Husband-wife, mother-daughter, mother-in-law- daughter-in-law and friend-friend. A root cause for many relationship issues is acting the role of the royal advisor. We just love to give advice because it gives us status and a satisfying sense of self-justification. We love playing the archetypal role of the rescuer especially when we should be taking our own advice. Besides, when we feel stressed, giving someone else advice serves as a distraction from our own problems. It’s like starring in our own dramatic Reality TV show.

You might argue that a friend or family member asked for your opinion; in other words, you did not give unsolicited advice like other lesser mortal wannabe-advisors; however, you will find that you can improve all your relationships old, new and future, if you simply take my advice: Resist the urge to give advice, solicited or unsolicited. An added benefit is that you won’t feel resentful when people choose not to take your advice!

When someone asks for advice, he or she might really want
  • Confirmation of their thoughts – some people need to sort out their thoughts by circuitous talking and get to the point at the end.

  • Active listening to their reality – just announcing their reality objectifies it and allows them to get it off their chest and let it go.

  • Compassion about the human condition – a few kind words, a touch of the hand or a hug makes the person with a problem feel less alienated and more of a member of the community.

  • No judgment – Someone confessing a problem is not seeking condemnation. Most people who confess are looking for absolution, understanding or a “you’ll do better next time.” In very rare cases someone might actually want your advice. This might occur if you are a professional in the appropriate field of knowledge - in the form of free advice.
So, how do you know if your advice is really wanted? Make sure to listen attentively to both words and body language. First test the waters and ask a leading question, “What do you think?” Often after a lengthy monologue, the solicitor will say, “Gee thanks, that was very helpful. I know what to do.” Instead of saying, “I didn’t do anything,” simply respond, “You’re welcome.” On the other hand, after your-what-do-you-think-lead-in, there are follow-up questions and statements because when someone wants advice, he or she will pursue it further. When you are cornered, you can present your opinion (this is what I would do kind of thing), concisely, open-ended and concluding with, “Do what your heart and mind tell you to do.”

Also, try to do what general practitioners and internists do with their patients who ask for specific advice, they whip out their referral pad and write the name and number of a specialist.
Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout and Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York City , produces a weekly wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: