Giving advice to a friend can be a difficult and complicated task. Whether this is a long-term friend or someone you are just getting to know, reaching this level of trust can be both rewarding and intimidating. You want to support your friend in the best way possible, but you may not know or understand how best to do so. Giving advice to a friend strengthens the emotional bond between two people, and humans need these emotional bonds to be physically and mentally healthy. If you have ever struggled with giving advice to a friend, consider the following suggestions.
Giving Advice to a Friend 101
Avoid Giving Unsolicited Advice
We care about our friends, and when a friend is showing distress, it is tempting to drop everything and come up with a solution. If you’ve ever given your friend advice then gotten a sour reaction from that friend, you may have been offering unsolicited advice.
If a friend is reaching out for support, it is important to understand the type of help they need. While your instinct may be to advise them how to fix their conflict, offering solutions outright may make the advisee feel unheard or stress them out more. They may then get angry at you, which could cause another unneeded argument.
To make sure you respond respectfully, it is best to lead with constructive questions such as “Do you need to vent, or do you need help finding a solution?” This shows that you have the desire to help and your willingness to provide multiple support methods. These phrases also give your friends time to consider what type of support they need most.
If your companion shows signs of irritation while you speak, raises their voice when responding, takes a defensive tone, or stops talking entirely, you have accidentally offered unsolicited advice. The best response is to apologize, and request they continue uninterrupted.
Practice Active Listening
Active listening is a technique used when you want to fully understand your conversation partner and build a rapport with them. Practice active listening through these steps:
- Pay Attention– Give your friend your full attention and allow your friend ample time to speak, including “wait time” in between the pause of their response and your answer. Make sure your body language is open and relaxed to make them feel comfortable. Do your best to hear them out fully before dispensing advice.
- Withhold Judgment– Let go of preconceived notions of either your friend or of the conflict at hand. The best advice will come with looking at the entire situation with an open mind.
- Reflect– Give yourself time to process the new information before responding.
- Clarify– Ask relevant, caring questions to invite more conversation, such as “Can you tell me more about…?”
- Summarize– Summarizing the details of the conflict gauge your understanding of the situation and your friend’s feelings. This also allows your friend to clarify certain details if needed. Useful phrases during this process include: “So what happened was (conflict), which made you feel (their reaction). Does that sum it up?” or “You feel (emotion) because of (problem). Does that sound right?”
- Share– If possible, share your own experiences with this problem to show them they are not alone.
Ask Before Providing Examples
When giving advice to a friend, a common instinct is to relate a story about how you dealt with a similar problem. Many people take comfort in hearing how others processed these issues in the past. However, switching the focus of the conversation to yourself without context may result in an emotional misunderstanding. Your friend may need conversational focus to remain on them to feel security and comfort after revealing vulnerable, emotional details, and may feel unsupported or brushed off if focus switches to another person. Just as you must watch out for unsolicited advice, you must be aware of unsolicited examples.
An easy way to navigate this is to provide sympathy for the situation and explain that you have insight that may help. One way to word this could be: “That sounds very difficult. You know, I experienced something similar to this, do you want to hear how I navigated it?”
This tells your friend that their emotions are relatable and valid, and you are willing to be equally vulnerable to help them. If your friend seeks solutions, they’ll likely say yes or decline if they simply need to vent.
It is not always possible to relate personally to your friend’s situation. If you have never experienced the problem your friend is going through, you may not know how to move forward. In these cases, it is best, to be honest about your limitations and provide reassurance of support. Phrases like, “I’ve never experienced that, so I’m sorry that’s happening. Do you want to figure it out together?” could be used to communicate your empathy of their situation and desire to help, even if you don’t have the perfect answer.
Help Create a Plan
If your friend is seeking solutions, help them plan specific steps to reach their goal. Offer to help them research their next steps or figure out what their overall goal is.
If your friend’s problem is more than they can handle on their own, gently suggest your friend seek out counseling. Avoid harsh phrases such as “You need professional help” by utilizing empathic wording like, “When I’ve heard about situations like this, I’ve heard that going to therapy can help.” Offer to help them research therapists who will take their insurance, or create a list of traits they would need in a therapist.
Don’t Feel Pressured to Fix It
Giving advice to a friend can be tough, especially if they don’t appear to take that advice. You must remember that it is not your job to fix your friend’s problem. You cannot control if or how they put your advice into action, because that may not be the best course of action for them. The purpose of giving advice is to help your friend make a better judgment of their situation. Even if your friend works out their problem in a different way, your advice likely helped them figure out how to solve their problem, and they likely appreciate your help. Remember, advice should always be about support, not you being right.
Still Feeling Low? Call on Mid City TMS
When giving advice to a friend, you must remember that you can’t solve all their problems, and sometimes the best advice can be to consult an expert. If you or a loved one are having difficulties dealing with depression or anxiety, Mid City TMS provides a new perspective on treatment. TMS is an alternative form of depression treatment that has been proven to relieve symptoms alongside antidepressants.
Our practice uses magnetic pulses to activate sections of the brain with low activity. This FDA-approved treatment results in patients experiencing better overall mood, improved energy and motivation, reduced anxiety, and normalized sleep and appetite. Sometimes the best advice involves recruiting extra support, so schedule a consultation with Mid City TMS to find out how we can help you.