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The Wrong Type of Advice

As youth leaders, we are often in a position to give our youth advice. Sometimes they’ll ask for it, other times we see them do something so stupid we can’t help but butt in, and there are the occasions where we feel ‘led’ to share some of our wisdom.

But before we open our mouths, there are a few things to consider.

1. Were We Asked for Advice?

I’m just throwing it out there because I’ve been known to fall into this trap. Did someone (a teen, a leader, a parent, anyone else) actually ask for our advice, or are we sharing it because…yes, why? Question your motives to hand out advice if you weren’t asked. It may very well be that the desire to say something has more to do with you than with the person you’re talking to. No matter how good your motives, be sure advice is wanted before dishing it out. In my experience, listening is sometimes all that people need to feel heard, understood, and helped.


2. Are We Qualified to Give Advice?

Another toughie. Recently a friend asked me to share my thoughts on her husband, who’s stuck in a job where he’s not appreciated. The problem is, that he’s working in a sector I know absolutely nothing about. That makes it hard for me to offer realistic and helpful advice, since I have no idea of viable alternatives. So I advised her to have him contact my husband, since he knows way more about that sector than I do.

Before jumping in with stereotypes or platitudes because you want to say something, ask yourself if you’re really in the best position to give advice. Do you know enough about the topic? Have you been in a similar situation? Do you have the (life) experience to give evidence-based advice? If not, lovingly refer them to someone more qualified.

3. What Kind of Advice is Needed?

OK, so someone did ask us for advice and it turns out we actually have something relevant to contribute. Ask yourself this last question: what kind of advice is needed?

Research shows there are four types of advice (1):

  • Advice for (“Do this”)
  • Advice against (“Don’t do that”)
  • Information (“Here is information about your problem, with both argument pro and contra”)
  • Decision support (“I get why you would do this. Talk to X about it to hear what he thinks.”)

Most people tend to offer advice for or against something. Interestingly however, most people with a problem prefer information. They’re interested in hearing options, preferably solutions they haven’t thought of themselves.

When we give information, we don’t necessarily provide answers. We merely assist the other person in discovering his or her options, thus helping them come to a decision themselves. This is way more powerful than telling them what (not) to do, if only for the fact that that type of advice tends to be cliché, or heavily influenced by our own (negative) experiences.

In short, when tempted to give advice, resist. Listen, listen some more, then ask yourself if you should give advice. If so, determine the best type of advice you can give. Then dive in with love and empathy.

ps. For some more insights on what to say to hurting teens, or more importantly: what not to say, check out these posts.

(1) Taken from: Ross McCammon, Allow me to give you a bit of advice, Entrepeneur, June 2015, 26/27.
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1 thought on “The Wrong Type of Advice

  1. […] they start to talk, just listen. Don’t immediately jump on the advice train—wait to see if they actually want your advice, or if they merely need to vent. And when they do ask for advice, be gentle. People are vulnerable […]

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