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How to Give Advice When Friends Ask for Help

Author:

Glenn Stok studies self-awareness and emotional well-being. He writes about it to help his readers with social mindfulness.

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When friends ask for advice, they may not specifically want guidance. Often, they need someone to listen and be supportive. Some people have difficulty accepting advice. They may be in denial and refuse any suggestions, even when they had asked for help.

In this article, I’ll discuss everything you need to know to properly advice people when they ask for help.

Is Giving Advice Worth the Effort?

If your friend is not ready to accept advice, or worse, if they don't want it, then it's best to avoid getting involved.

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 it repeatedly. They have their reasons, and they feel comfortable with that lifestyle.

Lack of information is one of the most common reasons for making mistakes and not knowing how to get out of a bind. It can be beneficial if you have the knowledge to provide information that they might be lacking.

Only offer your thoughts if you know enough to give meaningful advice. Be honest about that. Sometimes people ask me to help with something I don’t know anything about. In that case, it’s best to admit it and suggest a better place to go for help.

Ask Thoughtful Questions Before Giving Advice

Giving advice starts with active listening. It’s essential to question your friend after listening 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.

What Is the Best Way to Give Advice?

It’s crucial to avoid criticizing. 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.

Art Markman, a Ph.D. who writes for Psychology Today, recommends giving your friend information that they might have overlooked. It helps to provide alternative options to select, but without giving your own viewpoint on either option. That is known as "decision support," which guides someone with 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.

How You Can 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 bring out 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:

  1. Describe the obstacles.
  2. Identify an opportunity.
  3. Propose a sequence of events.

Once the above questions produce a clear vision of what one needs to resolve, it may be better to merely support them with their decisions rather than giving specific recommendations.

How You Can Be Supportive

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. Once you had grasped the full nature of their predicament and understand what they want to accomplish, you can respond with whatever needs to be said.

Don’t just say things they want to hear to make it sound good. That is not being supportive. 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.

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 fought 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 now that he left on his own accord.

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. It’s best not to get involved in some cases, especially if you’re unsure how your friend reacts to advise.

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.

Understand When It’s Best to Stay Out of It

Some people in need of 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, then you will possibly never be able to help them.

When someone is in denial, it’s hard to guide him or her. 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.

How to Offer Help to 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 that 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 lead down a more fruitful path. Sometimes they reconsider, usually if something happens that opens their eyes.

To Conclude

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.

A mentor or life counselor with the qualifications to give motivational therapy to lead one in the right direction would be better for some instances where a friend may not be the best suited.

It’s not always our place to be the provider of guidance for a friend who went astray. We might not even be qualified to do it, even when we think we know the answers.

Remember

  • Exercise active listening.
  • Avoid criticizing.
  • Explain available options.
  • Suggest alternative sources for help.

Resources

  1. Art Markman, Ph.D. (Apr 16, 2010). "What is the best way to give advice?" Psychology Today
  2. Kevin Daum. (Sept 3, 2014). "8 Things Really Great Problem Solvers Do." Inc.com
  3. Paula Spencer Scott. (Retrieved July 6, 2019). "Dealing With Denial." Caring.com

© 2019 Glenn Stok

Comments

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on July 16, 2019:

Dora Weithers - Interesting point--the uncertainty of counseling results. Yes indeed.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 16, 2019:

Very helpful counsel. Some of your stories made me smile at the uncertainty of counseling results. We win some, we lose some, but as you pointed out, our genuineness is what matters.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on July 14, 2019:

Readmikenow - “I only know how to handle situations with my wife.“ — Great response. It keeps you out of trouble. Too bad your friend still got angry anyway. Sounds like someone to stay away from.

Readmikenow on July 14, 2019:

Glen, you are absolutely right. When I have refused to give career advice to a person they were angry because I was honest and said I didn't know anything about his industry. I had a relative get angry because I told them the truth about a legal situation. When things happened like I told them they would happen, this person got enraged at me. So, you are absolutely correct, it has to be handled carefully. A friend asked me for advice on how to handle a situation with his wife and I told him I don't know. I only know how to handle situations with my wife. He got angry. So, you wrote a very honest and accurate article. Enjoyed reading it.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on July 14, 2019:

Audrey Hunt - I understand what you mean. When we have empathy for others and watch them continue to make their lives worse by ignoring useful advice, it is draining on our emotions. Thanks for your comment.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 14, 2019:

Glen, you have given good advice about giving others advice and more importantly, when not to give advice. I think some just want to vent even though they ask for advice. I do not want to get in the middle of a couple having problems, so I am very careful about giving advice in that instance. I will help only when I can and hope things work out for them. Very good article.

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on July 13, 2019:

Glenn, you've covered this topic well. I must say that I'm a good listener and have learned through the years that it does little good to offer advice or solutions. At least, this is how it's been for me. I invest way too much of myself, due to my empathetic nature, and feel somewhat drained after listening to peoples problems.

Thanks for this helpful article!

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on July 13, 2019:

FlourishAnyway - That’s a very useful idea. Thanks for adding that method.

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 13, 2019:

When giving advice in sticky situations I find that it’s helpful to offer suggestions in the form of questions, such as, “What would it look like for you if you chose to ... ?” They take active ownership and the wheels start turning although it may be my initial idea.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on July 12, 2019:

Liz Westwood - Yes, and I included "listening" too in one section. Thanks for checking this out and for your feedback.

Liz Westwood from UK on July 12, 2019:

I have read your article with interest. Instinctively as I read the title I thought of the importance of listening. You make some valuable points in this article.

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