How to give good advice

by Heather


This weekend, I was asked for advice about what might seem to be a common dilemma. There is a glib, easy, fairly well-accepted answer to this dilemma. But I have my doubts about whether this answer is correct in all cases. Contrarian that I am, the advice I gave was unconventional.

Giving advice is easy–but good advice? That may be a bit more difficult. A few thoughts about how to do it well …

  1. When people ask for advice, I like to respond … but not necessarily with the reinforcement they’re sometimes after. Sometimes offering love and support is all you feel sure of, and I think that’s enough. The friend who asked me for advice asked me to tell her what she already knew, as well as what she didn’t know. I thought that was a great way to ask for advice, because it acknowledges that …
  2. No one person knows everything. It’s very rare to understand the other person’s situation so well that you can recommend unequivocally doing x, y, and z. My response was to mention a couple of perspectives on the issue that might be a bit different than what she was thinking … to turn the question around and examine it from a couple different angles. But ultimately my advice was to go deep within for her answers.
  3. Far from replying with a stock answer, I even supplied a couple of new questions! If you’re like me, you don’t have all the answers to other people’s problems … but if you stick around for awhile and pay attention, you can pick up on a few good questions. One such question is, which way feels like fear, and which way feels like saying Yes to life?
  4. I believe the Divine and an unlimited perspective is within each of us, and that nothing could be more worthwhile than accessing our own deep wisdom, and asking it the most pressing questions we have. I find it helpful to remember that the person asking for advice already has the answers. Perhaps not consciously, very true. But they have access to the facts and emotional truth of the situation (which they may be filtering for a variety of reasons), and usually you the advisor do not. They also have access to their own inmost desires, moral compass, and gut instinct, as well as the ability to attract what they want and need. In other words, every possible tool and resource they need to solve the problem at hand.
  5. So I believe the role of the advisor is to provide support to the decision-making process. Your role might be to relieve the pressure of conventional wisdom, prevailing mores, or the opinions of others … to create some space in which the advisee can begin to take a fresh look at the issue in their own light. You may need to help clear away whatever is obscuring the person’s own truth.
  6. Should you give advice about a situation you’ve never experienced? Recently I was taken to task for doing just that. To me the key is to remember, and this is true whether you yourself have been in the exact situation or not, is that in the vast majority of situations, only the advisee can know what is truly right for them. In this weekend’s case, I hadn’t experienced the exact set of circumstances. But I have been in similar situations, and understood her agonizing and disgust and desire for decisive action very well. I’ve been there, I get that.
  7. I think it’s not imperative to wait to be asked for advice. If you have something you think might be helpful to share, I think it’s fine to offer it. “You know, something that has sometimes been of help to me …”
  8. And of course, you must be completely prepared to have your perfectly good advice ignored or discarded. Give it freely, no strings attached. Perhaps the time may not be right; perhaps the person isn’t really ready to deal with the issue. Perhaps the advice isn’t close enough to where the person is to allow him to grasp it. Whatever the reason, it’s critical to remember that you can only give advice–you can’t implement it. Implementation is entirely down to the advisee.
  9. But, love sent into the world is never wasted.

This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage card I made today, Understanding + Two paths.