How to Offer Advice {And How Not To!}

How to Offer Advice {And How NOT Too!}

I’ve been the recipient of a lot of advice lately — some solicited, some not. If I’m honest, some of that advice has left me frustrated, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why some of it rubbed me the wrong way while the rest did not.

I am 100% sure that I’ve broken all of these rules at some point in the past, but life is about learning better and then doing better, right?  So whether you’re a parenting, natural health or financial “expert,” here are some dos and don’ts for sharing your wisdom with others:

1. Don’t offer advice just to show off your expertise.

It’s obvious when you’re being a know-it-all, and no one likes a know-it-all.

Offering advice shouldn’t be about you and what you know, so take time to consider whether you truly have something to add or if sharing what you know will add to the person’s struggle, cause more confusion or make them feel even worse.

2. Share your advice privately.

If you haven’t been asked for advice, but truly believe the recipient could benefit from it, share it privately rather than publicly. Advice that is offered privately just feels more sincere and personal.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a long email from a friend in response to something we were dealing with. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by one more piece of advice, I was honored that she took the time to type out all of her thoughts (on an iPad, even!) just to share them with me.

3. Share from your personal experience.

Similarly, rather than telling someone what they should do, or what you would do if you were them, tell them about your own experiences and how you dealt with them. They don’t want to be judged for their decisions, and hearing your personal story is a great way to share what you know without coming across as the know-it-all from #1.

4. Acknowledge that your advice may not be what they’re looking for.

When a dozen people are offering you different and often conflicting advice, it can be frustrating to feel like you have to defend your choices to each of them.

A friend of mine offered to chat through an issue with me and then sincerely acknowledged that we were probably getting a lot of advice from a lot of different places. She went on to say that she completely understood if we didn’t take her up on the offer. It was such a relief to have her say that upfront (so that I didn’t have to worry about offending her) and also confirmed that she was truly offering advice with our best interest at heart.

Bonus tip: Don’t minimize the problem.

I hesitated to add this one to the list because I know people do this from the kindness of their hearts, but I think it deserves a mention anyway:

Be careful that your response to other people’s problems doesn’t simply minimize what they’re going through.

It’s our natural tendency to assure others that everything will be okay, but whether the problem someone is dealing with is real or imaginary, it always feels like a bigger deal to them than it does from the outside. Minimizing their concerns doesn’t really assuage their fears but instead makes them feel like you’re dismissing what they’re going through.

Instead, just be there. Let someone know you care, that you’re praying (if you are!), that you have been through something similar and know what it feels like to be worried, etc. Don’t say “I’m sure everything will be okay” or “It will all work out” or “Don’t worry.”

Like I said, I know I’ve broken all of these rules in the past. The point of this post isn’t to make you feel bad if you have too; it’s to share what I learned as the recipient of advice so that we can all keep them in mind for the future!

What else would you add to this list?

Mandi Ehman is the blogger behind Life Your Way. She and her husband have four beautiful girls plus one baby boy, and together they live, work and homeschool on a little slice of heaven in wild, wonderful West Virginia. Mandi loves coffee, chocolate, easy meals, beautiful things and minimalist spaces.
  • http://thefrugalgirl.com/ The Frugal Girl

    My pet advice peeve: when people start out their advice by saying, “Well, if you just….”

    The “just” in there makes it sound like the solution is just OH SO OBVIOUS AND EASY which is very irritating if you’ve been unsuccessfully dealing with a problem for a while.

    • Amy

      amen to that

  • JessieLeigh

    I guess I would just add that you shouldn’t always feel like you NEED to have advice. I know that sometimes the most meaningful support I’ve gotten during difficult times comes in the form of someone saying, sincerely, “That sucks. I’m so sorry.”

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Yes! That’s a great point. (Also, I love the words “That sucks”. It was the most comforting thing anyone said to me after my first miscarriage, and I think it’s underused!)

      • Heather

        Totally agree. After my brother passed from suicide, thats what I wanted to hear…not the “he’s in a better place” “he isn’t suffering now” etc.
        It sucks and I’m sorry and I’m happy to stay in the place of suckyness with you right now.
        (maybe it comes back to the point of “minimizing the problem”. Loved that)

  • Amy

    I have kids ranging in age from nb to 20, and I gotta say that these tips apply to them as well, particularly your bonus tip. Even at age four. If I’m respectful of their problems from day 1 (and really, your spot-on post is about respect) I’ve found that they are more willing to open up to me in their teens.
    Here’s another biggie: I learned not to show a strong negative reaction to what they say; my oldest would just stop talking to me so as not to upset me. (That was her feedback in later years.) Those have been my experiences, anyway ;) What an insightful post! I love how you summarized so succinctly.

  • Krystal Griffin

    I actually love social media for advice. I have found that I have to make sure I’m not upset when I post something or that comes through, and it’s when I’m most often misunderstood. Also, being ok with weeding through the negative responses to get to the helpful ones has helped. If I’m not ok with doing that when I want to ask for advice then I won’t use social media in that instance. In person, with real face to face conversation is always better. But in it’s absence I’ll take a social media chat. =)