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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 16, 2002

Unsolicited advice isn't always such a good idea

By Nelson Price
Indianapolis Star

You cherish her as your best friend, but you think her boyfriend is a jerk. Do you tell her?

Offering advice in diplomatic way

Jeffrey Zaslow, author of “Tell Me All About It” and “Take It From Us”; Indianapolis psychologist Greg Hale, and Indianapolis “life coaches” Mike Lantz and Diana Aughe offer pointers on how to diplomatically offer advice:

• Tread carefully.

• Pick a calm moment.

• Be supportive and compassionate, not overbearing.

• Allow the advice “recipient” to feel he has control over the situation.

• Pose a series of gently probing questions.

• Offer suggestions with the preface, “This is something that’s worked for me,” or ask: “Do you mind if I share my observations?”

• Never say, “I told you so.” It’s only an ego gratifier.

— Indianapolis Star

Or your buddy seems frazzled from holding down two jobs. He rarely gets to spend time with his wife and two children. Should you tell him he needs to quit one job and rethink his priorities?

"You really should analyze your own motives before you give advice to friends, family members and co-workers," says Greg Hale, an Indianapolis psychologist. "Are you certain you have the other person's best interests at heart?"

Jeffrey Zaslow, author of "Tell Me All About It" (Norton Publishing, 1990) and "Take It From Us" (Bonus Books, 1994), says it's best not to offer unsolicited advice — with a few exceptions.

"There have been times when unsolicited advice has saved a life," says Zaslow, who wrote a syndicated advice column for 14 years. "Of course, there also have been times when unsolicited advice has ruined a life."

It's all in the approach and packaging, experts say.

Advice, they emphasize, is received best if it's broached in a calm moment, not during the heat of an argument or when someone has just returned from a stressful day at work.

"Come across as nonthreatening and compassionate," says Diana Aughe of Indianapolis and founder of Coaching from the Heart. She's a "life coach" who specializes in helping women with their personal and professional decision-making.

Aughe and another life coach, Mike Lantz, owner of Lantz Quest Peak Performance Solutions in Indianapolis, recommend that friends ask each other gently probing questions rather than offering blunt opinions.

Take the example of the jerk boyfriend.

"I would ask, 'What is it you like best about this person?'" Lantz says. "I also might ask, 'What is he costing you emotionally, and is it worth it?'

"People get defensive if you just start giving advice, particularly something like, 'Dump him.'"

By asking questions, you help friends reach their own conclusions, experts say. People are more likely to act in response to, as Lantz puts it, "something they have decided on their own rather than what a friend tells them they ought to do."

Zaslow, who asks celebrities to share advice for a regular feature in USA Weekend magazine, says, "In our culture, we seek a tremendous amount of advice, which is why Oprah and Dr. Laura are so popular. But that doesn't always mean people always welcome the advice they receive.

"In fact, I'd say that people usually don't follow advice from their friends. It's wasted words."

Sometimes, though, you can't help offering suggestions, particularly if you've been listening for weeks to, say, a co-worker's complaints about her boyfriend.

"When they start up with another complaint, I would ask them, 'What are you going to do about it?'" Aughe says.

She recommends following that statement with, "How can I support you in whatever you decide?"

Zaslow suggests another technique for offering advice. "You can always say, 'This is what has worked for me.'"

That's a particularly useful approach, he says, if you feel the need to recommend counseling to a friend, co-worker or loved one.

"Almost everyone has had counseling these days, or at least is very close to someone who has," Zaslow says.

"Rather than telling someone, 'You need to see a counselor,' the advice goes down easier if you can refer to your own experience or (that of) someone close to you."

Is it easier to offer advice to a loved one than to a casual acquaintance?

"Yes and no," Zaslow replies. "You know a loved one's strengths and weaknesses, so your advice might be truly insightful."

However, because of the intensity of the relationship, the advice also could be resented.

Erik Kolbell, a New York-based therapist and minister, puts it this way:

"While a young man can tell his butcher he's selling him a lousy piece of meat, he usually can't tell his mother she doesn't know how to cook it."