Some people seem to always want advice, others seem to never want advice, and others are somewhere in between. Which are you?

You may feel differently depending on the situation and the person who is giving the advice. It can also depend on whether or not you asked for the advice.

A typical comment I’ve heard from many couples in my therapy practice:
He: “She never wants to take my advice.”
She: “He always wants to give me advice, and all I want is for him to listen.”

The same dynamic also occurs frequently between parents and children, especially teen-agers or adult children, usually phrased something like this:
Parent: “Why won’t you just listen to me/take my advice?”
Child: “Because I don’t agree with you/don’t need you to tell me what to do, etc.”
and/or: “Why won’t you just listen to me?”

Why does receiving advice generate such strong feelings?
Advice can produce feelings of appreciation or relief, or it can create feelings of frustration, irritation, resentment, or inadequacy.

  • When you are the recipient of advice, what is your first reaction?
  • How often do you listen and take it in?
  • How often do you quickly find reasons to refute or simply ignore it?
  • How much of this depends on whether or not you asked for the advice?
  • How much of this depends on your level of respect for the other person?
  • How much of this depends on you feeling dependent or fearful of the other person?
  • In what situations do you tend to follow the advice, even after first rejecting it?

As described in my previous article, giving advice creates the assumption that the advice giver is smarter or more powerful. It feeds the ego of the advice giver, so they may be more than willing to dispense information or opinions. Even if the advice is asked for and received well, the receiver is now in the position of feeling not as smart and less powerful, however subtle those reactions are. These feelings can escalate if the advice was not solicited. In either case, the unspoken message from the advice giver is, “I’m smarter, therefore I can tell you what to do.”
It is essentially, a one-up position. Sometimes this is appreciated, if the receiver wants or need information to learn some lesson, and it’s a price they are willing to pay.

How can you create the most benefit for yourself as the recipient of advice? The answer lies in how you process the information.

If you react defensively, trying to shoot down the advice or the reasons behind it, you are responding from your emotional brain, and not incorporating your logical brain. If you jump on the other person’s advice and decide to follow it without evaluating the information, you are neglecting to add your own thoughts, ideas, and resources into the mix.

To use the advice-receiving exchange in the most constructive way:

  • Listen to what the other person has to say with an open mind.
  • Ask them what thoughts or ideas went into the advice they are giving.
  • Ask yourself if the other person truly understands your situation and has your best interests at heart.
  • Ask yourself if the other person is taking your personality and style into consideration.
  • Ask yourself if the other person is speaking more from what they would do or what would be good for them.
  • Give some thought to the advice and see if there is any part of the advice that is valuable to you, even if you don’t agree with all of it.
  • Ask yourself what you have learned from the experience.
  • Ask yourself what other ways you could obtain the information you want, including figuring it out for yourself.
  • Think about how you might handle the situation differently the next time–anything from deciding not to engage in this type of discussion with this person, to how you could present yourself differently, to considering ways you can create more value out of the interaction.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.