How to Give Advice When Friends Ask for Help

Updated on July 12, 2019
Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok shares his insight about relationships that he learned from his studies of social behavior and from personal experience.

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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.

We need to determine their needs. The first thing I do is to ask if they indeed want help. I'll answer the following questions to make sense of the issue.

  • Is giving advice good?
  • How can I be a supportive friend?
  • How do I become more supportive?
  • Why don’t people take sound advice?
  • What is the best way to give friends advice?
  • How do I advise a friend with relationship problems?
  • How do you offer someone help who is a chronic complainer?

Is Giving Advice Good?

Advising a friend is always good as long as the reason for it is sincere. It's not helpful to give advice if you hope to get something from it in return.

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 or person to go for help.

How Can I Be a Supportive Friend?

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 you 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 Do I Become More Supportive?

Some people would rather have a limited life with limited success and limited happiness. They allow troubling episodes in life to worsen. I see it repeatedly. They have their reasons, and they feel comfortable with that lifestyle.

The best we can do is to listen to their rant, or whatever it is that they need to get off their chest. The idea is to have no intention to help. That is especially important if we are dealing with a friend who we already know has a tendency to ignore everything anyone ever tells them that would be of benefit.

When you handle it this way, you appear more supportive and earn their trust. Once that's achieved, they may come to you when they are ready—as long as they don’t feel intimidated by your otherwise pushy prior attempts.

Why Don’t People Take Sound Advice?

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 friend and waste our time.

These types of 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.1

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.

One friend I was trying to help once would repeatedly do the complete opposite and get 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 the fact that you might be wasting your time.

What Is the Best Way to Give Friends 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.

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.2

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 that they might be lacking. Assuming they accept it and act upon the information.

The trick of making your friend aware of available options allows them to think for themselves and make their own decisions.

How Do I 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 determine the factual nature of the situation 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. In some cases, it’s best not to get involved, especially if you’re not sure how your friend reacts to advice.

If their partner has a toxic behavior that is harmful to the relationship, then friendly guidance might be helpful. However, consider recommending the proper counselor trained to give support in such matters, rather than providing unprofessional advice.

How Do You Offer Someone Help Who Is a Chronic Complainer?

Those who always complain about their life and their awful situation are the same types of people who fail to work at 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 the fact 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 if something happens that opens their eyes.

Bottom Line

In extreme cases, one may be in dire need of counseling to help with severe problems in their life. 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. That is when a true friend will take a step back and suggest a more appropriate alternative to help.

Resources

  1. Paula Spencer Scott. (Retrieved July 6, 2019). “Dealing With Denial”. Caring.com
  2. Art Markman, Ph.D. (Apr 16, 2010). “What is the best way to give advice?” Psychology Today

© 2019 Glenn Stok

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    • Glenn Stok profile imageAUTHOR

      Glenn Stok 

      3 months ago from Long Island, NY

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

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      3 months ago from The Caribbean

      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 profile imageAUTHOR

      Glenn Stok 

      3 months ago from Long Island, NY

      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 profile image

      Readmikenow 

      3 months ago

      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 profile imageAUTHOR

      Glenn Stok 

      3 months ago from Long Island, NY

      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.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      3 months ago from Sunny Florida

      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.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      3 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      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 profile imageAUTHOR

      Glenn Stok 

      3 months ago from Long Island, NY

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

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      3 months ago from USA

      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 profile imageAUTHOR

      Glenn Stok 

      3 months ago from Long Island, NY

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

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      3 months ago from UK

      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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