On Giving and Taking Advice

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Emotionally, giving and taking advice are among the most difficult interactions that people must negotiate with one another.

What is advice? According to Wikipedia, an advice message is a recommendation about what might be thought, said, or otherwise done to address a problem, make a decision, or manage a situation.


According to Erica Jong, the well known writers about women’s issues, “Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.” I agree with this. In my experience, when people ask me advice, such as on MentalHelp.net’s column, “Reader Questions“, I respond that there is no need to ask me because they already know the answer. Then why ask in the first place? For some people, asking advice has more to do with looking for confirmation more than anything else.

According to a paper by Reeshad Dalal and Silvia Bonaccio in a 2010 issue of “Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes,” there are several different kinds of advice that people get and give  They distinguished between four types of advice:

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1. Decision Support: This advice suggests how to go about making a choice without giving a specific recommendation.

2. Advice Against: This is advice to avoid a certain situation.

3. Advice For: This is a recommendation to choose a particular option.

4. Information: This is providing a piece of information that the decision-maker may not know about.

Studies show that, of all the types of advice it is providing information that is the most helpful. The reason is that all the other types of advice become laden with powerful feelings of anger and resentment. This shows up in intimate relationships where advice giving can become a source of consternation and conflict.

Perhaps the most difficult kind of advice to deal with is that which is unsolicited. Depending on the way the advice is delivered, the receiver can feel lectured to, belittled, reprimanded and nagged. Research shows that men may feel reprimanded by their wive’s advice while women may feel condescended to and incapable. In addition, while wives may listen to their husbands’ problems with empathy while offering guidance, men will offer practical solutions without displaying empathy.

The fact is that the giving and taking of advice is a slippery slope to go down. It is usually best to ask a spouse or friend if they want advice or not. It is also best to gently tell the other that you will accept advice at another time but you do not need it at the present moment.

Even if providing information is the most acceptable type of advice, it too is not helpful if it is not sought after. These are emotional politics that bring out the vulnerability and sensitiveness of many people.

What are your experiences with giving and taking advice? What advice do you have for others??

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


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