What’s wrong with advice?

Dennis

Wise men don’t need advice. Fools won’t take it. —Ben Franklin

While advice giving is widely practiced and can take many forms, it often has adverse effects for both the giver and receiver.

What could be wrong with advice giving? People often ask for it, and it’s clear that some people need it. And when we give it, we often feel helpful and even appreciated.

Advice giving can simply mean sharing a point of view. The advice giver explains how he or she thinks about a situation and the possible consequences of various courses of action. They then leave it up to recipients to make their own decisions.

But sometimes advice giving is a form of control that is expressed as a demand.

If you are not certain about the motives of the advice giver, try an experiment: Thank the advice giver and explain that you will take their advice under advisement. If they “should” you (“You should do that” or “You need to do that”) or get upset or angry, you are on the receiving end of a demand.

Both requesting and giving advice have their downsides:

Sometimes people ask for advice because doing what others advise is easier than figuring out what they want to do and accepting responsibility for the outcome.

Similarly, advice giving often generates dependency and passivity in the face of problems. The default response becomes, ”I will simply wait for others to tell me what to do.”

Advice giving is often one directional – from those with more power and status to those with less.

What to do instead of offering advice?

Support people in solving their own problems by helping them better understand the problem through “exquisite listening” and by assisting them in generating alternative solutions, setting goals, creating action plans, and monitoring progress.

If asked, offer your point of view, but let go of the outcome.

What is your experience with giving and receiving advice?

4 Responses to “What’s wrong with advice?”


  1. 1 rickrepicky April 13, 2016 at 5:27 am

    Lots of wisdom in this statement: “Support people in solving their own problems by helping them better understand the problem through “exquisite listening” and by assisting them in generating alternative solutions, setting goals, creating action plans, and monitoring progress.” Allows both support & growth.

  2. 3 Justin Baeder (@eduleadership) April 13, 2016 at 11:26 pm

    Fantastic insights—especially about the issue of responsibility as well as growth. “Whomever is doing the most work is doing the most learning” and when we’re in an advice-giving mindset, we’re doing the work.

    Perhaps this is one reason why it’s so powerful to have “virtual mentors” whose advice you can imagine, but have to determine and apply yourself.

    (Thanks for being a great virtual mentor, by the way!)

    • 4 Dennis Sparks April 14, 2016 at 11:54 am

      I am very honored, Justin, that you would see me that way. Virtual mentors allow us to be guided and inspired by historical figures and colleagues whom we may never meet face to face.


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