Una's Blog


35 What is so bad about giving other people life advice?

graphic-2by Una Hearne.

Nothing. IF you are making suggestions and are not attached to whether the person takes your advice or not.

If you give someone advice about their lives and you believe you are right, and they should do what you say, the underlying message is always ‘I know better than you.’ This is especially true is they have not asked for your advice. It is patronising and undermines their confidence (whether they are conscious of this or not). It is also wrong. You don’t know what another adult should do or think in relation to their own life. You couldn’t possibly. Each person is uniquely qualified to know what is best for themselves.

Inappropriate advice or suggestions are often attached to the word ‘should’ (even when this word is not actually used). ‘You should’ implies ‘I know better.’ On the other hand, sometimes the word is used but the intention is not actually you should do what I say. People often offer suggestions, using the word ‘should’ which are in fact, completely free of obligation and are genuinely given with the intention that you use your own judgement. Advice, suggestions and alternative perspectives are vital and profoundly useful when you are completely free to make up your own mind about them. They are undermining and confusing when they are given with the conviction that any other choice is ‘wrong’.

It is far more helpful to another person to help them explore their own thinking than to give them an answer to their question. This is fundamental in coaching and is applicable to all human relationships. Consider the difference in effect between these two responses below, to this question: ‘I have two job offers, one is permanent but really not in the line I’m interested in, the other sounds much more interesting but it’s a contract, what do you think I should do?’

1  ‘You should take the secure job, you don’t know if you will get another one and you’re lucky to be offered a permanent job at the moment!’

2 ‘From what you are saying, one job seems to offer more security and the other one will make you happier. Which is more important to you right now?’

The first response is a reaction based on the fears of the person answering. It’s pushy, judgemental and could cause more underlying confusion than it clears. If you accept someone else’s opinion on the basis that they sound so sure of themselves, you may undermine your own confidence in your judgement.

We all need help, perspectives, ideas and suggestions from other people. They can really help you to think through your stuff. As long as you remember you are the only person qualified to know what is right for you in your life.


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