A Little Advice on Giving Advice

I’m naturally inclined to be a “fix-it” girl. You know, the kind of person you tell a problem to (or sometimes just a reflection), and I immediately begin to offer suggestions on how to improve or how to handle. In fact, sometimes I get impatient with people who just want to talk about their issues and never want to get into what to DO about them.

But the issues with my daughter and her sleep habits have readjusted my view of giving advice so “freely.”

Here are the two main lessons I have learned about giving advice.

1) Remember your experience does not lead to the only solution. When it comes to matters of Biblical truth, we often find only one answer. Otherwise, as they say, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Friends were often so enthusiastic to share their experience with their kids and sleep that it left me feeling that their answer was the only answer, despite the fact that our kids were completely different. Yes, share your experience, but be sure to remind the listener (and yourself) that it is simply your experience. The information may be useful . . . or it might not be.

2) Sometimes the person needs encouragement, not advice. In fact, the very act of offering advice – even if well intentioned – can be condescending. Trust me, when you’ve had many a sleep-deprived night you have already researched online every possible method to try or reason she’s not sleeping, and checked out every book you can find on the subject. Additionally, all that advice can imply that the person is at fault. A friend recently shared a struggle with her daughter. While she did ask for some input, everyone (including myself!) was quick to share their thoughts on what she could do or ask questions to try to help her find the root of the issue. No one simply said, “Perhaps you’re doing everything you can. Persevere knowing your parenting is not the cause. It just might be your daughter.”

Please don’t walk away from this post thinking I don’t find sharing advice to be beneficial. I have learned much from the advice that others have shared with me. Sometimes I do need to be corrected. Just try to see the situation from the receiver’s perspective as well. And remember you’re sharing in order to help the person, not to prove how smart you are or to be the One who offered the golden solution.

So how about you? Any advice on giving advice?



  1. The older I get the more I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut. I’ve learned that listening is far better than talking. I’m a fixer too. But sometimes things are better left unsaid.

    Also, usually people who actually want advice will directly ask for it!

  2. Tina-

    Thanks for the book. It looks rather interesting…I am excited to get into it. Plus it has a forward by Chuck Norris which makes everything cooler.


  3. spaghettipie

    HG – Great point.
    K – Yes! And it’s particularly hard when it relates to my husband.
    B – No problem. I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts.
    D – Thanks for stopping by.

  4. That was great advice T! (I really mean that…a lot of people – especially online – are really free with their advice and sometimes we forget that you need permission as well as relationship to speak into someone else’s life) Online relationships can be especially deceiving because it feels more ‘intimate’ than it really is.

    BTW – you were so right about The Shack. I’m not quite done yet, but I have a lot more to say already, so I’m going to definitely post at least once more. I have quite a few caveats to discuss!

    On that note – so funny you mentioned it because I too love the idea of an online book club/discussion group and a blog (because of the commenting feature) is a great place to do it so I’m going to do a little experiment on my blog as I finish The Shack. Wanna join in?

  5. spaghettipie

    LM – It’s a good rule of thumb. But particularly difficult for me to follow at times.

    MR – Oh, online relationships definitely add a whole additional layer of complexity to the equation. How brave we get when we don’t have to say things face to face. Looking forward to your Shack Experiment.

    G – Glad you stopped by.

    K – 🙂

  6. This puzzled me: “When it comes to matters of Biblical truth, we often find only one answer.”

    If you mean the person of Jesus, I’ll absolutely agree. But in my experience, we Christians give each other advice about God and Biblical truth ad nauseum.

  7. spaghettipie

    MG – I totally agree we often too ready to give “Biblical” advice to everyone we meet. And I certainly don’t think we need to quote chapter and verse at people all the time.

    What you raise is an interesting question. I think our advice should always be grounded in Biblical truth, but that should occur because we are living out the Bible, not just because we know (or think we know) the “Bible” answer. I guess it’s also as much in the way we give the advice, too.

    However, I wasn’t really trying to delve into that aspect in my post. I was just trying to point out that in some cases we do find only one answer: we shouldn’t gossip, Jesus is the only way, it’s wrong to murder . . .

  8. I have a couple of things too:

    1. some people love giving advice. If you are one of those people (an I am) you probably ought to bite your tongue often. I try to give about 50% of what I feel like giving.

    2. Some people need to go through the same process you went through to find their way. Unless the situation is dangerous, watch for clues in their face. Maybe you mention that you have some experience and see if they ask for help.

    3. You have to earn the right to give advice. The deeper your relationship, the more right you have to jump right in there. If this is a stranger or a new friend, be careful.

  9. Hey, there. I have no advice on advice. I agree with everything you said — probably because I’ve walked the same road. Zach is 2 1/2 and still not consistently sleeping through the night. We might get one or two nights a month, but the typical pattern has him wide awake until 10 and up at 6 with me “visiting” him at least twice a night. It’s exhausting and – you’re right! – the added advice only intensifies the defeated/frustrated feelings of sleep deprivation. I’ll be thinking of you and praying for you when I’m up, wishing I weren’t. 🙂

    I wonder if there are certain personalities that invite onslaughts of advice. Sometimes I feel I have a neon sign over my head telling everyone I need help. I’m afraid to be authentic because the slightest crack in my armour seems brings a flood of unsolicited advice. I want people to know I’m not perfect, but when I do, they all want to fix me.

    Sorry for the long comment!! I’ve felt the brunt of this a lot lately — between my son’s sleep habits (or lack thereof), his intense, spirited temperament and … well, life. By the way, did you ever read “Raising Your Spirited Child?” We discussed months back. Just curious. TAKE CARE!

  10. hedgehog

    When someone’s about to get hit by a bus, it’s hard to stop yourself from trying to warn them. But, alas, you’re probably better off letting them get hit. Probably the hardest thing I had to do is watch a friend eventually get infected with HIV from a known carrier. That is, I knew, the carrier knew, but my friend didn’t. So sometimes it’s very difficult to not give advice.

  11. spaghettipie

    M – Ha, ha! 🙂
    RLP – Love your additions.
    T – Funny how those of us with sleep troubles feel so similarly!
    H – First, thanks so much for stopping by. It’s such a difficult, delicate balance to know when to speak and when to not speak. I don’t think we should never give advice, but we do have to weigh our reasons and our words very carefully.

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