– How to give great advice (and know when to shut up)

There is nothing like a good heart-to-heart discussion. And a problem shared often seems lessened. But there is a fine line between support and interference and if you dish out badly judged advice, it can easily ruin a friendship. So when and how should you speak up and when is it best to keep quiet?

It’s as much as about what you don’t say

Martha Beck, US “life design” counsellor and author of Finding your own North Star, has this to say to people who like giving advice. “Good advice”, she says Is about listening.’ Be empathetic but don’t brandish your own opinion or experience. Encourage your friend to talk and find the best solution herself.

I discovered the truth in this myself when was offered an exciting but uncertain, career opportunity and turned to one Mend for advice. Her unwillingness to offer an opinion was frustrating. Now I realise that she was letting me work through the issues and make the right decision alone. If a friend does demand your opinion on a dilemma, always be measured in your response, says Beck. “Remind her that she’s got the power to make the choice about what to do with your advice and point out that your advice maybe wrong.”

Give Empowering, Not Overpowering Advice

That is imposing your (often uninvited) opinions on someone rather than offering support that will help your friend find their own solutions: what Beck calls “empowering advice”. The first rule of any good advice, she states, is that it is invited. People always resist being what to do.

Be Supportive Rather Than Lecturing

If you see a friend in a damaging situation something that may be affecting their physical or mental health you’ll feel you must give advice. But rather than lecturing about the damage that their drinking/spending/infidelity is doing, simply tell them your concerns, making it clear you care for them without imposing your opinion. Friends need to know you’re there for them, but you’ll never be able to force someone’s will. “Don’t tell someone what to do, but guide them.,” says Valerie Lamont, a chartered counselling psychologist.


 “Most people know best thing to do; they need help arriving at point.”

Make Sure Your Advice Isn’t All About You

There are times when you have to consider your motives for what you say and who you say it to. If you are too close to a dilemma, it will be hard to give unbiased advice. Be sure your response isn’t more about your own feelings on a friend’s situation than a genuine concern for them. Likewise, understand your own hidden agenda, Lamont says. “In many friendships there is an element of envy: be aware of that.” If say, you believe a friend is better placed than you financially or socially, it may be hard for you to take problems about these issues seriously.

If you don’t think you can give advice, say so

Sometimes the best thing you can do for a friend is to send them in the direction of someone better able to help. It’s more useful to admit a lack of knowledge or a biased viewpoint than to try to deal with a problem you’re not equipped to sort out. Alternatively, say nothing.

Often when someone asks for advice, they’re really only looking to bounce ideas off someone. Silence is especially golden if a friend is moaning about a partner. While her criticisms will be forgotten when they make up, yours may not be.

The greatest piece of advice you can give may not be at first glance advice.


Worst Advisors

  • People who don’t know you.
  • Those who aren’t supportive.
  • Relatives have a set about you what you need.
  • Friends who want to keep you right where you are.
  • Anyone with an axe to grind
  • Anyone  who condones your attempts to postpone

Best Advisors

  • People who ask questions you see motives.
  • Those who don’t refer back to their own experiences
  • People who give their opinion only after careful consideration

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