DP Challenge – What’s the best piece of advice you ever gave someone else and didn’t take yourself?

I see the DP challenges all the time, like the rest of us Word Press junkies who are always checking our stats and trawling around the blog world – this one I couldn’t pass up.

I used to throw a statement out to my students when I taught undergrad courses in helping skills and communication – giving advice is an act of arrogance.

Students would invariably have a strong reaction to this statement – that was the point, and to be fair it is overstated in its absoluteness. But I was trying to get a discussion going and challenge the idea that helping – be it in a professional capacity or with friends and family – is about telling other people what they should be doing. Let’s be honest here – that is what advice usually amounts to.

I feel so strongly about this that it has crept into my novel. Here is a small excerpt from Disappearing in Plain Sight

Liam didn’t want to give Lisa-Marie advice. He believed most people roll out the advice-giving wagon without thinking about what they’re doing. It’s arrogant to imagine you can ever know what someone else should do. He had no idea if Lisa-Marie should take her shot with Justin. His twisting gut told him it was a mistake . . . . On the other hand, Liam’s gut was always twisting and he didn’t know for sure what other people felt or wanted.

There, in a nutshell, is my opinion on advice giving. We seldom know enough about another person’s situation to weigh-in with a – you should do this – type of statement. We think we do, but we don’t and therein rests the arrogance. The other person will be the one to live with the consequences of taking our advice – do we want that on our conscience? It’s far more productive to be a good listener and allow people to explore their own situation and feelings and come to their own decisions.

I often faced very heart-felt comments from students on how giving advice was what their whole idea of helping rested on – they had always been the one in their family and in their various relationships to tell others what they should do – people actually valued them for playing this role.

I would set up an exercise where students would sit with a partner and listen to this person speak for three uninterrupted minutes. Going into this exercise, most students felt it would be easy – after all it was a course on helping skills and improving communication and many students took the course because they were considering future work in a helping field. And after all – what is three minutes?

After the time was up, we would discuss how the listeners managed. Invariably they shared that they found it extremely difficult to just listen and not interject with advice or share their own experiences of a similar situation. They often said the three minutes seemed like forever.

Try this exercise yourself – most people will find it very difficult to listen to another person talk for three minutes. (I’m not saying stone faced listening here – active listening – giving the other person non-verbal positive feedback to keep them talking.)

OK – conclusion – what’s the best piece of advice I gave to others and didn’t take myself? Simple answer – don’t give advice! I’ve broken that advice so often I can’t even count the times. And I know better! There you go – true confession. My most notorious advice-giving has been with my grown children. And I’ll tell you this for free – giving unsolicited advice to your own kids is quite unproductive.

Oh what fools we mortals be . . .  and all of that.

My advice – try listening instead of telling other people what they should do. Oh, oh – there I go again, giving advice.




11 comments on “DP Challenge – What’s the best piece of advice you ever gave someone else and didn’t take yourself?

  1. Christine Penhale says:

    This is very disconcerting – it is hard to imagine never offering advice to a friend. I try to be a good listener, but I also love giving advice because I want to help those I love and advice feels like a way to do that. But do I take my own advice? Lol rarely. But really, does anyone? And what is the best advice I give people that I do not follow? Love is not enough, and you should leave a person who holds you back or is just not able to move forward with you.

    • Good points – I believe most people do give advice out of a sense of wanting to help. With advice like yours – followed or not – you should be writing your own blog!

      • Christine Penhale says:

        I have considered writing my own blog as I enjoy your blog so much, but then I regret not starting one when I first moved out here for school. Always an excuse and what seems like the wrong time or reason to start. I have to write three term papers by December 13th, so this is, once again, I would suggest a bad time to start a blog.

  2. mysticcooking says:

    I think everyone loves giving advice because it feels like you’re helping someone, and at the same time it is a bit of a stroke to your own ego, like you know what to do when someone else doesn’t. So I can definitely agree with you that advice giving is arrogant; that being said, I think it is often helpful, too – often people have trouble seeing things clearly when they’re too close to the situation, so an outside observer might have a better idea of the best course of action. Still, good to keep in mind, and I like the 3 minutes of listening experiment.

    • Good point – advice giving as a means to stroke our own ego – and I agree that advice can be helpful at times – I’ve been on the receiving end of some good stuff. So, why this hard nosed challenge to advice-givers – I guess it’s about trusting the source.

  3. Christine Penhale says:

    mystic cooking and Fran have a great point. It is sometimes very hard to be quiet and listen for at least three minutes and it would be a wonderful skill to learn. Perhaps when we acquire it we can then offer even better advice as we would be more informed regarding the situation 😉

    • Exactly – if we can develop the skills to really listen then at least we will be part way to being able to judge the implications of the advice we’re giving. Thanks so much for getting this conversation going!

  4. Christine Penhale says:

    Oh, and as an entertaining aside, when I first read the blog title “DP Challenge” I was perplexed and confused as to the blatant pornographic reference – what type of blogger had Fran become?! After researching DP on the internet I was relieved to find many other non-pornographic meanings…clearly I am spending way too much time with graduate students lol!

    • And I’ve obviously been out of the grad student loop – since I have no idea what pornographic implications could attach to DP Challenge – but wait – don’t tell me – it will be more fun to speculate.

  5. Smoky Zeidel says:

    I love getting, and giving advice. I ask people what they think I should do about things all the time, and my friends and family ask me, too. You don’t have to take the advice, as they don’t have to take yours. But when faced with difficult decisions, it’s always nice to get the perspective of others near to you. Perhaps they have thought of an option you have not.

    • Great points, Smoky – it’s certainly true that others can bring a new perspective to a difficult decision. One thought that comes to mind is how sure we are that someone else is really free to not take our advice – I’m thinking of incidents when there are power differentials and maybe other things going on in a relationship that we have no idea about. Something to consider – maybe what I want to really advocate for is a thoughtful approach to advice giving that is always preceded by very careful listening – what do you think?

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