Good Advice on Advice Giving

| October 29, 2013 | 0 Comments

You can recognize good people by how much they like to give advice on any topic. I love seeing it, because it speaks of a kind heart and a desire to help. As a society, we need as many people as possible to act this way.

As a mental health professional, who took over 10,000 calls on a government funded psychology helpline in Austria, I have some advice on advice giving. First of all, starting at the age of two, we become our own persons and are not always open for advice anymore, especially, when it comes to us without asking for it.

This is the most important point for advice giving: do not give it when it is not solicited! This cannot be emphasized enough. It seems logical, but practically, it is very difficult to only give advice when asked. We seem to always have strong opinions about situations that we hear about. As a third party, it appears quite clear what the right thing to do would be, since we are not emotionally involved. However, rarely do we consider that we ourselves might not follow that advice. Our desire to act takes over and the most rational of decisions is often a choice very far down the list.

A good way to give advice after listening to somebody´s situation is to say: “You have not asked me for advice, but I have some thoughts on this subject, which I’d be glad to share, if you´d like.” Then, wait for the invitation. Only if the other person is actually taking you up on the offer should you give advice. The chances of being heard and appreciated increase exponentially after that request. That’s because, when they are actively asking for advice, they continue to stay in control of a difficult or tricky situation.

There is another way to make sure the other person does not feel obligated to do what you are saying. That is to listen and then decide whether the advice is of value for this individual situation. You could say something like: “My advice is worth as much as you paid for – nothing. And I have no bad feelings if you don´t take it.”

What also works well is to speak of a similar situation you once were in and what you decided to do and why. It is very important to use “I” statements only and never say something like “you have to do this and that.” That way the individual can listen without getting defensive. Once someone gets defensive, they can´t apply even the best advice for their own benefit. They’ve lost the ability to maintain their own independence.

Listening is often better than giving advice. Eventually, people end up asking us about things they admire us for. That is the best advice we could ever give. It also seems to be the rarest. There is a lot of “advice giving” happening around us. Fact is, the recipient has to be ready for it. Only then is any kind of advice of any use, no matter how valuable the information. Even mental health professionals struggle with that. The client has to be ready.

Whenever clients say they were sent by someone else, the chances of the therapy being effective go down tremendously. In order for any of us to grow and move on, we need to be willing and ready. Simply knowing that it all starts with willingness can be helpful to change any situation, no matter how difficult.

Author Sabine Starr is a psychologist licensed in Vienna, Austria, currently living and working in Mission Hills. She has written numerous articles for professional psychology journals. For further information, visit and follow her blog at

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