Signs Your Advice Is Doing More Harm Than Good

You might think you are helping, but…

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Each of us navigates life on with a different energy, transpired by a belief system rooted in our own personal experiences. That being said, no two stories will ever be identical, because there is no way to replicate another’s life in its entirety. While we can simulate empathy to make an attempt at understanding another person’s position in life, until we have the ability to live theirs for them, it is impossible to come from a place of mirrored experience. It is with this knowledge in mind, that we continue to ask others for their advice and are oftentimes weighted by the surprises it brings or the confusion it might introduce to an already difficult situation.

So where does the line fall between helpful and hurtful?

Here are a few red flags that will signal you are providing less benefit and more conflict:

Your point of view

Take for instance a person who is searching for relationship advice. This person has been cheated on in the past, never been married, and has a tarnished outlook on what it means to be in a relationship as a result of these disappointments. Now suppose you are the close friend of this person and you find yourself in a marriage that is being threatened with divorce. You choose to seek solace and direction from the person closest to you (which so happens to also be the first mentioned in this example). You ask him or her what their opinion is, what they might do in this scenario, and how you should move forward. Let’s say this person suggests you stick around, despite your lost sense of self since being in a marriage that has grown toxic. This person projects their lonely onto you and brings it up as the other side of the coin using phrases like, “You don’t want to end up back in the dating world. There’s some shallow people in this pool — cheaters, liars, etc. All the good ones are already taken. You’ve already got one who has committed to you.”

Though this advice might hold some truth, to what extent are you willing to go to lose yourself in order to avoid a few bad dates with new people?

Moving on to another scenario — deciding to leave a job you are unhappy with. Let’s say you seek counsel in a person who is equally as dissatisfied with their work. This could seem like a plausible approach, being that you are in similar boats, but the specifics are unique to each of you; therefore, the advice is bound to be flawed. He or she is coming from a place of needing the income more-so than you might, having greater financial responsibilities than you might have, and pressure from others to stick around. You, on the other hand, might be in a supportive relationship where your partner encourages you to go in the direction of fulfillment, even if it means temporary unemployment and has suggested you do whatever is best for you. This is likely not going to be the same feedback you get from the previously mentioned peer. One is suggesting they know what is best for you, while the other is admitting that only you know what that might be.

Point of View matters

As the previous statement and posts would suggest, the way in which you speak to the person you are relaying advice to can make all the difference in the world. This is especially true about the verbiage you use. I shared before that when giving advice to yourself, it can be much easier to provide sensible advice when speaking in the third person. For example, “Madison should do ______” or “Madison, you have always wanted ______, but you are letting ________.”

If you find yourself speaking in a way that suggests you are giving advice on the premise that you are them, rather than that you are you and they are them, then you are doing him or her tremendous disservice. When we revisit our dialogue and perspective, we realize that a simple change from first-person to second-person and then ultimately, to third-person, can truly increase the quality of the advice being given. When you consider the amount of emotional attachment that is inevitably paired with our own personal experiences, it becomes difficult to not allow our first-person dialogue to include these preconceived notions.

The difference between harmful verses helpful advice begins with the first word of your response. How does your advice sound? Does it run along the lines of, “If I were you” or “I’m not you?” Taking this approach into consideration can mean the difference between you pushing them in the direction of progression vs stagnancy.

So how can we become better at giving advice?

There is certainly hope for all, both those giving and receiving the advice. When you consider the points made above, it should be clear that the first step is to remove yourself and your emotions from the situation entirely. Giving advice should feel a lot like preparing for a test in the sense that you don’t want to include information that was never provided nor studied. In other words, don’t use your past to advise them on their future.

Written by

Writer. Poet. Philomath. Dog Mom. Traveler. Creator. Wanderer. Teacher. Empath. Author of “Unapologetically Human” - available on Amazon

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