I study emotional responses in relationships and write about them to help others with self-awareness and improve their well-being.
Is Giving Advice Worth the Effort?
When friends ask for advice, they may not specifically want guidance. Often, they need someone to listen and be supportive.
Unfortunately, some people have difficulty accepting advice. They may be in denial and refuse any suggestions, even when they had asked for help. If your friend is not ready to accept advice, it's best to avoid getting involved.
I'll discuss everything you need to know to advise people properly when they ask for help.
Several Pointers on the Best Way to Give Advice
Begin by Asking if They Indeed Want Help
The first thing I do is ask if they indeed want help. Some people would rather have a limited life with limited success and little happiness. They allow troubling episodes in life to worsen.
I see that happen often. They have their reasons, and they feel comfortable with that lifestyle.
Ask Thoughtful Questions
Giving advice starts with active listening. After listening, it’s essential to question your friend to determine what they hope to achieve from the discussion.
Explain that you need to know what they want. That will help them feel that you are genuinely listening and trying to help.
So, it helps to ask thoughtful questions before going any further, such as:
- What do you value in your life?
- What are you trying to accomplish?
- Why is it important to you?
- What challenges do you believe you might face?
The answers you get from these questions could make a big difference in the advice you decide to give. When you do that right, they will appreciate you for it and recognize the value of your assistance.
If you dwell upon their mistakes, they may be too embarrassed to continue the conversation.
It’s better to focus on the solution rather than bringing up the problems they created for themselves. They already know what they did wrong. Provide a view of the future so they have something concrete to envision.
Provide Alternative Options
Art Markman, a Ph.D. who writes for Psychology Today, recommends giving your friend information they might have overlooked. It helps to provide alternative options to select without giving your viewpoint on either option. That is known as "decision support," which guides someone in making their own choice.1
The trick of making your friend aware of available options allows them to think for themselves and make their own decisions.
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We should never give up the ability to hear where they are coming from. Certain types of behavior cause people to avoid doing what’s needed. They just can’t put the energy into the task required to pull them out of a bind.
You need to listen and show understanding. Then, once you have grasped the nature of their predicament and understand what they want to accomplish, you can respond with whatever needs to be said.
Offer Constructive Solutions
Don’t just say things they want to hear to make it sound good. I believe in “tough love” as the only way to be helpful.
If a friend asks for help and you have determined that they definitely want guidance, then explain what they need to do, no matter how difficult it is for them to hear it. That is the only way to give support that will help in the long run.
Suggest Professional Counseling if You Can't Help
It's best to avoid giving incorrect information. So, only offer your thoughts if you know enough to give meaningful advice on the subject.
Be honest about that. Sometimes people ask me to help with something I don’t know anything about. In that case, I know it’s best to admit it and suggest a better place to go for help.
Lack of information is one of the most common reasons for making mistakes and not knowing how to get out of a bind. Therefore, it can be beneficial to seek the help of a professional.
In extreme cases, one may be in dire need of counseling to help with severe problems in their life. That is when a true friend will take a step back and suggest a more appropriate alternative to help.
How to Help People Who Don't Listen
It's crucial to be transparent when advising someone by explaining your reasoning behind it. One needs to offer guidance to see the big picture. If you can’t help someone see a potential for disaster, they will not be motivated to do anything about it.
When someone decides to do something that's not favorable, ask how they came to that conclusion. Then ask a more pointed question, “What are you hoping to get out of that?”
That line of questioning could help one see where they are headed. If it were not a good choice, you might ask, “Why do I feel that way?”
Feelings usually reveal the truth behind a bad decision and make things more apparent.
Once that's achieved, provide a plan of action to solve their problem.2 That’s necessary to see the results they might still be overlooking:
- Describe the obstacles.
- Identify an opportunity.
- Propose a sequence of events.
Then let them make their own decision. Once the above proposals produce a clear vision of what they need to resolve, it may be better to support their choices rather than give specific recommendations.
How to Advise a Friend With Relationship Problems
This could be a tricky situation. If the advice deals with a spouse or partner, it’s vital to understand the problem before advising anything drastic, such as divorce. If they work things out in the future, it may negatively affect your friendship with that friend.
A friend once told me she argued with her husband over finances, and he left her. Since he had threatened her repeatedly, I told her to change the locks and not let him back in.
What did she do? She went ahead and informed him that I recommended locking him out. What good did that do?
You never know what someone will do with your suggestions. So it’s best not to get involved in some cases, especially if you’re unsure how your friend reacts to advice.
If their partner has a toxic behavior that is harmful to the relationship, friendly guidance might be helpful. However, consider recommending the proper counselor trained to assist with such matters.
How to Help a Chronic Complainer
Those who repeatedly complain about their lives and awful situation are the same people who fail to work on a solution. They’d rather only keep talking about it.
When a friend continually talks your ear off about their problems, ask what they want specifically.
I usually say, “Are you feeling better telling me all this, or are you hoping for some helpful advice?”
It's best to rule out the possibility that they may be in denial and will never do what’s necessary. Otherwise, the effort may create frustration for you and your friend.
When one is in denial, they have difficulty accepting advice even when they ask for help. When that’s the case, I make it clear that I recognize they want to continue failing with what they have always done. That statement is meant to wake them up.
I also give them the option to come back when they are ready to be led down a more fruitful path. Sometimes they reconsider, especially if something happens that opens their eyes.
Understand When It’s Best to Stay Out of It
Some people who need help will outright refuse to accept any proposed solutions. We can’t help these people, and we shouldn’t even try. It will only frustrate our friends and waste our time.
These people get frustrated when friends try to help because they have unresolved emotional issues that cause them to stay in the same situation.
I have had to walk away several times when a friend would ask for advice. I knew they were in denial. They argued with all the solutions I would offer. Unfortunately, I would later discover that they made things worse. That was their choice. There is nothing we can do about it.
It will help if you determine what is going on in their mind, such as:
- What does your friend fear?
- What do they want to accomplish?
Most of all, are they looking for guidance or just someone to assure them that they are doing the right thing? That’s the tricky part. If that’s what they want, you will possibly never be able to help them.
When someone is in denial, it’s hard to guide them. They make excuses for their predicament, and they let it continue to affect their quality of life.3
It’s unfortunate, but when people are in denial and don’t want someone to show them the path that will help. They usually will continue to keep their head buried in the sand no matter what one tries to tell them.
A friend I was trying to help once repeatedly did the complete opposite and got herself into more or a bind.
In some cases, they might make it sound like they want help but really don’t. For that reason, you need to keep an open mind while following through with guidance and consider that you might be wasting your time.
- Exercise active listening.
- Avoid criticizing.
- Explain available options.
- Suggest alternative sources for help.
A mentor or life counselor with the qualifications to give motivational therapy to lead one in the right direction might be better in some instances where a friend may not be the best suited.
It’s not always our place to guide a friend. We might not even be qualified to do it, even when we think we know the answers.
- Art Markman, Ph.D. (Apr 16, 2010). "What is the best way to give advice?" Psychology Today
- Kevin Daum. (Sept 3, 2014). "8 Things Really Great Problem Solvers Do." Inc.com
- Paula Spencer Scott. (Retrieved July 6, 2019). "Dealing With Denial." Caring.com
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Glenn Stok