A Guide to Giving Good Advice


I’ve been told I give good advice and my specialty tends to be a practical real world perspective. Often it’s hard to have perspective on an issue when you’re in the middle of it. When someone asks for advice the best thing to do for them is to give them an objective third party point of view. I also believe information is power so I’m going to give you the brutally honest truth so that you can make an informed decision. Giving good advice is a lot harder than you’d expect so here are some tips to help guide you:

Leave your own bullshit out of it. One of the hardest parts of giving good advice is detaching yourself from the situation. Try and leave all of your own baggage at the door. For example I’m someone who doesn’t want to impose and therefore I will go 5 steps out of my way rather than ask you to go 1 step out of yours. This can lead to doormat tendencies which is I have to be aware of so it doesn’t bleed into my when advice. Some baggage can’t always be put aside but at least calling it out will help with transparency. I usually will acknowledge my own baggage in certain situations so that the person knows that I’m seeing things through a tainted lens. It sounds something like, “That’s what I would do but I tend to avoid conflict which isn’t always healthy.” 

Put it on paper. Perspective can be difficult. A good way to get around natural barriers is to physically write down the basic points and details. Seeing things in a list brings out the patterns that you might not otherwise spot. It’s might even help to write things down and go back to it a day or two later. This will also help remove any of the emotions that might cloud your judgement.

History repeats itself. It’s one of the truest cliches you’ll ever find. We all have patterns that are constantly repeating themselves. The goal is that we learn and grow from our mistakes but most patterns will find a way to continue regardless of our growth. For example when I was younger I was always attracted to the wrong type of guy. (i.e emotionally unavailable) I was at that age when my instincts would tell me to run for the hills but I would confuse that signal as a “spark” or “natural chemistry.” While I broke that pattern in my love life I still see a few versions of my old mistakes in my current friend circle. I bring all this up to make the point that when giving advice it’s a good idea to remember the persons past. Although it might feel like they’re a completely different person now their old self isn’t as far away as you may think.

We’re not as unique as we think we are. If you were watching a movie and saw someone with the same issues you’d probably be able to diagnose the problem within minutes. Clearly the character is a shallow narcissist who is detached from reality. However when  we meet a person in real life with the same qualities we instantly start to justify it to ourselves. “I know it seems like he’s just really shallow but he’s not like that. He’s different.” While there are exceptions to every rule, 99% of people are all pretty similar at their core. While the details of the problem may have changed over time the basic issues at the heart of the matter are probably ones that have existed for centuries. There is a reason why Shakespeare’s plays still resonate with us. The core conflicts can still be found today. So while you might get caught up in the modern technology details of the problem the issue isn’t Growlr or Facebook it’s the feeling associated with them. When giving your advice consider the fact that this might be a common problem such as miscommunication disguised as something more complex. 

Honesty is the best policy. If someone is asking you for advice it’s best to be as honest as possible. Like I said knowledge is power and it’s best to have all in the information in order to make the best decision. Obviously tender subjects should be approached with care but it’s best to call out any elephants in the room. If there is a theme of internalized homophobia running through everything why not politely bring it up in conversation. Again I must stress the need for tact but honesty is always the best policy. 

Be a guide not a director. The mistake most people make when trying to give advice is to give specific direction of what to do. Rather than specify “Do this and not that” I prefer to give options and let the person chose for themselves. If it’s an either or scenario talk out both scenarios. Usually as the discussion progresses the best choice will be clear. Regardless of how wise you are, in the end it’s not your life and the person must ultimately do what’s best for them. Your job is to offer perspective not directions.

Know when to give up. A couple years ago I had a friend who was in a very dysfunctional relationship. I felt he was being treated unfairly and I tried to help him realize that he could find someone who treated him better. He would constantly complain and bemoan his situation. As time went by I realized a couple important points. First, it became clear he liked being in a dysfunctional relationship so that he could feel like a martyr. Second he treated his boyfriend just as shitty as he was being treated. I had to take a step back and accept that this was their fucked up version of happy. Granted it’s not a version I would tolerate but it’s their life not mine. Some people are just fucked up and they’re going to continue a pattern no matter what. So if you’re about to give a person the same advice for the fifth time then it might be wise to give up and just listen. They’re probably going to ignore you so why not just provide a sympathetic ear for their empty complaints.

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