Why Giving Advice is Not As Helpful as You Think
October 12, 2015—Some time ago someone sent me an e-mail asking for advice on a matter. I wrote back saying, “I don’t give advice,” though I did provide some resources related to the question. Later, this person asked me to explain what I meant when I said I don’t give advice, especially given that he knew I did consulting. “Isn’t that what consultants do?” he asked.
Recently, at a conference I dealt with the concept of overfunctioning-underfunctioning reciprocity. At one point I gave a list of examples of overfunctioning. One example was, “Advice giving.” Not surprising from a group in the helping profession, this point generated a lot of questions and discussion. Since many were “experts” who were sought out for their advice, this news was troubling. Participants wanted to know why giving advice was overfunctioning.
Overfunctioning promotes irresponsibility and dependence. While advice giving may seem like a helpful act, ultimately it is counter effective. Here are some reasons why:
- Giving advice does not work because it does other people’s thinking for them.
- Advice giving can be willful when it imposes one’s values or predilection on another.
- Advice giving assumes that the other person does not have the capacity to solve his or her own problem.
- Advice giving denies others the process they need to learn for themselves.
- Advice giving may promote irresponsibility when it is an act of rescuing.
- Advice giving often is an expression of hubris—it assumes we know what is best for another than the person does.
- Advice giving removes the importance of choosing, which is necessary for developing values and for learning.
- Advice giving may be more about managing our own anxiety than about helping another.
- Advice giving perpetuates dependence.
There are more helpful strategies for helping than giving advice. Here are some:
- Empower the other person through challenge.
- Offer resources without endorsement or bias.
- Solicit thinking on the part of the other person.
- Help the person identify options.
- Share an experience.
- Encourage imagination.
- Allow the person to experience the process of thinking through the problem.
- Appreciate that stuckness is one step in the process toward resolution. Do not deny the person that step.
Opportunities at The Center for Lifelong Learning to learn more about conflict and leadership:
- The Leadership in Ministry Workshops
- Colloquy for Mid-Career Clergy
- Other courses at The Center for Lifelong Learning
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.