Communication Decision-Making Healthy Relationships

How to Give Good Advice

Has this ever happened to you?

A friend comes to you for advice. They say, “Give me your honest opinion.” So you do. And then your friend feels hurt or angry. The conversation may even escalate to an argument or a major falling out.

Um… what the heck???

I have learned the hard way that, no matter how much they insist, people who ask for your honest opinion do not want it. Usually, what they really want is for you to confirm what they already think. When you don’t do that (either because you can’t read their mind, or because you know their opinion and don’t agree with it), it can just make them feel more confused and frustrated.

So what can you do to give good advice? I have a few ideas:

  • Be aware of judgment. Often, perceived judgment is what leads to hurt feelings. When you notice judgmental thoughts coming up, become aware of them, and return your focus to the present moment. Try to imagine how you would feel if you were in your friend’s position yourself.
  • Listen. Almost always, if you allow people to talk things out, they will talk themselves into their own conclusion about what to do. If they stop talking and you aren’t sure what to say next, ask a question or elicit more information from them.
  • Validate. “That sucks.” “That must have been hard.” “I can’t believe she said that.” These are all responses that show that you care and you’re in your friend’s corner.
  • Summarize. Briefly reviewing the pros and cons of your friend’s decision can be helpful for both of you. They will know you really heard them, and it may even give them insight into their decision.
  • Gently present your opinion. Heard of a “compliment sandwich”? I’m going to suggest that you give an “opinion sandwich.” Before stating your opinion, say something affirming, like, “I’ll support you no matter what you decide to do.” Then state your opinion. Say not only what you think your friend should do, but also why; give them all of the reasons. Then end with something like, “…but that’s just what I would do. I totally trust your judgment,” or, “…but you should do whatever’s best for you.”
  • Or, don’t. You may genuinely not have an opinion. Or you may know for a fact that your opinion isn’t going to be well-received, and don’t feel like it’s a battle worth fighting. In this case, you can say something like, “Man, that’s a tough one. I have no idea. Keep me posted on what happens.” If they push you for an answer, say, “I seriously don’t know!” If you can, make a little joke like, “I’m bad at giving advice… I guess I shouldn’t quit my day job.”

If you have any more tips for good advice-giving, or questions about this article, comment or send me an email at rebeccao@kennethyoung.org. I would love to hear from you!

-Rebecca

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