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Five Reasons Why People Don't Listen to Advice

I study emotional responses in relationships and write about them to help others enhance self-awareness and improve their contentment.

Why Don't People Listen to Advice?

Why Don't People Listen to Advice?

Do you get frustrated when you try to help friends solve their problems, and they don’t accept the advice? It may be impossible to help people when they are in denial and refuse to listen to reason.

I’ll explain what I had learned about people who don't want to take advice, and I’ll give you five reasons why they don’t, as I figured out from repeated circumstances.

Many people come to me for advice, but when I try to offer positive guidance, I discover two attitudes people have:

  1. Some accept the advice but do nothing with it. They never follow up, and I have noticed these people rarely succeed at accomplishing anything. They usually end up making their lives miserable instead.
  2. Then some consider the advice, think it through, and do something with it. Many people with this attitude even go beyond my suggestion. I see these people improving their lives.

I get frustrated when a friend lets things go downhill, especially when I offer a solution. I explain how to avoid the problems developing in their lives, but they let it happen anyway. They ignore the advice, and my predictions of doom come true.

There is nothing that we can do for these people. Many times I need to back off and sadly watch them sink deeper into trouble. I think that’s what they really want. I’ll explain what I mean with a couple of examples.

Some people set themselves up for failure. I have noticed that these types of people will never listen to a friend giving advice. They are somehow programmed to continue their path towards failure.

The way I see it, they don’t think it through. They just let their lives deteriorate. They don’t do anything to improve their lives or to solve their own problems.

How Do People Perceive Their Reality?

I think people who don't take advice see their reality differently than we do.

We look at their lives with clarity that comes from being uninvolved. But they observe things as they wish they would be and neglect what's important.

They are totally involved in their own affairs, so they tend to distort reality to suit their individual needs with their personal boundaries.

We can show them the direction, but they need to start by taking responsibility for their actions. Some will never recognize that they create their own failures. I consider this a narcissistic trait.

An Example of Narcissistic Behavior

I have a friend with diabetes, and he likes to walk around barefoot.

I told him that with diabetes, he could get gangrene if he steps on something and gets an infection. I explained that he could lose a foot.

His ex-wife gave him slippers, but he was so upset we told him what to do that he threw them out.

One day he threw something at a wall out of anger, shattering it into pieces. He later stepped on the debris and got an infection. He ended up having his foot amputated.

Disagreeing With Advice Due to Denial

If someone takes responsibility for their own failures, they can adjust their behavior and plan a new strategy. They have no problem accepting any new ideas presented to them.

However, if they are in denial, then they will not see the value of the advice. They are stuck with their inability to solve problems. They will disagree when we try to help them and come up with all sorts of reasons why they should not listen to sound advice.

I noticed that people remain in denial and don’t listen because they lack the skills necessary to think it through—to plan a solution. In addition, when a solution is presented to them, they don't see it.

Even when telling them how to solve their problem, they will disagree with the reasons for taking action. They are frightened of change, and they are unwilling to try something different.

Sad to say, I see this attitude with friends who are going nowhere with their lives. Their present way of doing things isn't working, but they come up with excuses, and they argue that it's because of other reasons beyond their control. I call this denial.

An Example of Denial

A friend with an accounting business asked for advice. She told me she wouldn’t be able to pay her rent because she’s losing clients.

I told her that her office was making a poor impression. I recommended that she clean up her office. I explained that an uncluttered office would imply an orderly tax report.

She argued that she had no clients because everyone is using TurboTax.

She didn’t clean up, had no clients, couldn’t pay the rent, her landlord evicted her, and she lost her business.

In denial that a cluttered office makes a poor impression.

In denial that a cluttered office makes a poor impression.

Five Reasons Why People Don't Take Advice

Now that I described a couple of behavior patterns, I thought of the many reasons people don’t listen. By observing this behavior with friends, I have narrowed it down to the following five reasons:

1. They don't value their own life or their business:

I think people will make time for the things they value. I know I do.

Referring to the two examples above: My friend, who lost his foot, didn’t value his life. I have to believe that. And my accountant friend didn’t value her business.

2. They have a fear of success:

I can think of things I’ve avoided for fear of success. However, as far as I can tell, it’s really fear of the unknown.

Whenever I had avoided something early in life, it was because I didn’t know the outcome. Somewhere along the way, I started to notice that things always turned out okay. That gave me the courage to get involved with new and unknown things.

The main problem I see with people who fear success is that they hope it will all work out anyway—all by itself—one way or the other.

Hoping for a better tomorrow without doing anything to correct today's problems will never bring change. I try to tell friends this, but they still continue with hope and despair.

3. They are in denial:

Denial interferes with the ability to act rationally.

I had a female friend who told me her boyfriend proposed to her. I knew he was going to want to live off her money, based on a previous discussion I had with him.

I warned her against marrying him. I even reminded her that she overheard the way he was talking about it. Nevertheless, she was in denial and refused to believe the truth.

A month after the wedding she called me, crying despairingly, and said they had a fight. I asked what happened. She told me that he wanted her to pay all the bills. His reasoning was that they are living in her apartment, so she should pay all the bills. Imagine that?

4. They don't have a time perspective:

These are the same people who are always late. Have you ever noticed that people who arrive late and keep others waiting, never succeed at achieving something meaningful in their own lives?

To accomplish tasks, we need to have a clear vision of how long it will take. Then we need to plan each step to fit the allotted time available.

If we ignore the problem and just let time pass, or if we don’t figure out how long it will take to get from A to B, then we are doomed for failure.

I see this problem with some friends who say they understand what I’m telling them to do. They agree that it sounds like a solution to their dilemma. The only problem is, the next time I talk with them, they still haven’t started, and the end is near.

5. They want approval for doing things wrong:

I think this is the worst of all.

An acquaintance I’ve known through my social circles once called and asked for help. She said she is being arrested.

I asked for details so that I can know how to help her. She explained that her boyfriend broke up with her, and she called him several times a day, leaving messages asking for an explanation.

He had put out a restraining order, and she continued, so he put out a warrant for her arrest.

I responded with a straightforward question. I said, “I need to understand something. Do you want me to help you?”

I needed to be sure that she indeed wanted help. She said she did.

Therefore, I proceeded to tell her what to do. I said, “Just stop. Stop calling him. Stop thinking about him. Stop and move on.”

She was extremely disappointed with me. She said she was hoping I would defend her and support her feelings. Instead, she felt that I was attacking her.

So I told her . . .

“I’m so sorry. I misunderstood. I thought you wanted help. I understand now that all you want is support for failure. Only friends can help you, but what you need is an enemy. Someone who does not care for you will be glad to support your failure.”

In Closing

Some people improve their lives with advice, while others reject it because it doesn’t meet their need for approval.

I sympathize with all my friends who don't listen and suffer because of it. I offer love and compassion when it suits their needs, but I believe in tough love when they are going downhill and need to be woken up.

My only intention is to guide a friend to a better place. But, unfortunately, they often take it as an attack if I don't give them approval for the ways they fail. How strange is that?

There are times when we must back off and realize that they don't want help. They just expect to have approval for their failure.

This video sums it up with a little humor:

I explained what I had learned about people who don't want to take advice. I also gave you five reasons why they chose not to accept help to improve their situations.

I'll leave you with this humorous video that sums it up quite well. I hope I made things clearer for you.

Questions & Answers

Question: My friend gives me advice, but she gets furious when I give her any, what should I do about my friend's reaction to me?

Answer: It’s not always a two-way street. You are open to suggestions because you want to grow and improve your endeavors. However, your friend may not be in the same mindset. She is not ready for growth. She may be in denial, and it’s not easy to get past that without making her resent you.

It would help if you made her feel you were supportive. Ask your friend if she is open to hearing advice. In many cases, you need to leave people alone. It’s best to avoid any attempt to help them if they aren’t ready for it.

I wrote another article that will provide more insight to answer your question. "What Is the Best Way to Give Advice to a Friend?" ( ) — I discuss how you need to be supportive, and know when to leave people alone and not try to help them if they are not open to hearing advice.

Question: I tried to give my daughter well-known suggestions for coping with anxiety that I've used myself. But her reply was, "I can't be bothered," and she hung up the phone on me. It's so frustrating to talk to her. I feel I'm not helping or supporting her, and she tells me that sometimes. I'd love to find some middle ground. Do you think there's any way to do that when they cut you off if you're not saying what they want to hear?

Answer: It isn't easy to get through when all they want is for you to side with them rather than guide them. Your daughter is still in the "denial" stage.

Unfortunately, you will alienate her if you try to push through that as long as she is in that stage. Intelligent people eventually learn from their mistakes, and then they will seek advice rather than confirmation. Your daughter is smart because she is your daughter, so I'm sure she will get there. When she does, she will come to you for guidance.

In the meantime, it's best if you ask her what she wants from you. When people ask me for help, I first reply by asking if they want guidance or if they just want an ear to listen to their woes. Sometimes that question wakes them up. But even if it doesn't, they will respond with more appropriate behavior rather than hanging up the phone on you.

© 2012 Glenn Stok