Getting advice from friends, family, or colleagues can give you the boost you need to solve a problem or get out of a rut.
Maybe you have a tough time at work, need career advice, or simply want a second opinion on a new color to paint your bedroom. Sometimes you can figure out which direction to choose on your own. Other times, you might need help from someone in your life whose opinion you trust.
There’s an art to giving good advice on friendship and taking the time for active listening. Like everything else, it takes practice. But if you put in the effort to learn how to share and receive sound wisdom, you’ll build lasting friendships.
Why is advice important?
Advice is important because it helps you find new ideas when you need to solve a problem. From time to time, you need to hear a different perspective. A friend’s personal wisdom brings valuable, often objective, insights that help you overcome challenges and move forward in moments of confusion or distress.
Sometimes it can be scary to ask for someone’s opinion, even from a good friend. Depending on the situation, you might feel vulnerable or even embarrassed. Asking for advice feels like it could bruise your ego or stir up feelings of shame.
But asking for advice doesn’t mean you aren’t a confident, self-assured person. It can actually be an important part of the decision-making process, and it’s a great way to build more trust in your personal and professional relationships.
Hearing new perspectives and discussing your own opinions stimulates learning, the exchange of information, and deeper connections, which are all building blocks of healthy friendships.
And people who ask others for advice leave strong impressions and are perceived as smarter. Whether you’re speaking with a colleague, mentor, or friend, asking for advice will help you and the person you’re talking to grow.
The “dos” of giving the best advice to friends
Learning to be a better friend who people turn to for advice takes care and practice. You have to build your empathy and honesty — both skills you can nurture and grow. Here are some friendship goals to work on when it comes to exchanging advice, whether helping a new friend, family member, or close confidant.
1. Make sure your advice is solicited
Not every problem warrants advice. Sometimes people just need to vent out loud to someone they trust, like a good friend or trusted coworker. Before giving your sage wisdom, pay attention to their body language and tone.
Don’t be afraid to ask if they just need to get the words out or really want to hear your opinion. Checking in shows that you respect boundaries and are willing to lend support in the way they feel most comfortable with.
2. Use your body language
This person has come to you because they think you’ll be a good listener. Use your body language to let them know they have your full attention.
Eye contact, for example, is an active listening technique that activates the limbic mirror system, which causes people’s brain neurons to mimic one another, meaning if they feel something, you will too. This can deepen your sense of connection to one another and make your friend feel safe and protected.
3. Ask thoughtful questions
While your friend explains the situation, ask good questions that require more than simple “yes” or “no” responses. These are also known as open-ended questions. They spark conversation and help both you and the person you’re talking to better understand what they’re going through.
Here are a few thoughtful questions you can ask:
Why do you think this situation is affecting you?
What can I do to help you out?
If I was in your position, what advice would you give me?
4. Be honest
It’s okay if you don’t have the answer, but be sure to let your friend know. Understand the difference between brainstorming solutions together and filling the silence with unhelpful advice. In this case, your advice can simply be that they should seek answers from someone who might better relate to their experience or, in some cases, offer a professional opinion.
For example, if your friend is going through a breakup or has lost a job that’s causing larger problems with their well-being or mental health, suggesting they seek help from a mental health professional is some of the best advice you can give.
5. Be open-minded
Having an open mind means you’re willing to admit when you’re wrong, hear new solutions, and can adapt to dynamic situations.
Approach advice with a positive mental attitude that allows for new ideas and encourages your friend to consider all their options. Remember that your advice isn’t about you, it’s about them. Don’t let your perspective limit you.
6. Weigh out the possibilities together
Everyone has their own unique experiences, and sharing yours together is a great way to find new solutions to problems. Try weighing out different outcomes and problem-solving strategies as a team.
When you put your heads together, you might think of new ideas and solutions you otherwise wouldn’t.
The “don’ts” of offering advice
Bad advice, or advice you present with a bad attitude, can make your friend, coworker, or family member’s situation worse. Here are some things to avoid when giving advice.
1. Ignore your biases
Everybody has implicit bias, which, if left unchecked, can negatively affect your communication and decision-making process. Combatting your own bias takes humility, reflection, and collaboration.
When advising your friends, be curious rather than close-minded, encourage reflection, and pay attention to the verbal and nonverbal clues your friends are communicating to you. That way, you can recognize and combat your biases to have a more open conversation.
2. Gossip afterward
Both positive and negative gossip can reflect poorly on you. Sharing other people’s problems without their consent can make you seem like a bad friend. Your friend has come to you because they value and trust your judgment, so don’t break that trust.
Gossiping about their situation with a different group of friends, on social media, or in any other public space could make them feel worse — or even cost you their friendship.
3. Compare them to others
Everyone has different lived experiences, thought processes, and life circumstances.
Telling the person asking you for advice to be more like someone else, or comparing their situation to yours when it isn’t warranted, isn’t helpful. It could belittle them or make them feel like they aren’t good enough.
4. Act like a savior
Your role isn’t to make all your friend’s problems disappear, even if you wish you could. It’s up to your friend to ask for and act on your advice if they make the choice to.
Give them the support they need to weigh out all the possibilities and make the best decision on their own. Try not to tell them exactly what to do, and recognize that you can’t solve all of their problems.
5. Be judgmental
Your friend likely has strong feelings and emotions about what’s happening in their life. Judgment doesn’t help — and can send people into a spiral. Judgmental social exchanges are proven to create psychological distress and poor self-esteem.
Avoid telling your friend they’re being too emotional, irrational, dramatic, or sensitive. It invalidates their feelings and causes stress they don’t need, especially if they’re easily overwhelmed.
6. Hijack the conversation
Reflecting on your own experiences could show empathy and establish a shared experience. Your friend might even feel more open to sharing if they know you have gone through a similar situation.
But their problem isn’t a conversation starter to talk about you. Even if they ask you to share their experience, be sure to circle back and keep the focus on your friend.
Here’s an example: “Setting boundaries with my friend was really difficult. But the bottom line is that it was becoming a toxic friendship, and I had to make some space for myself. You’re a strong person, and I know you can do the same thing. What boundaries do you want to set with them?”
How to receive advice with gratitude
Sometimes, when you ask for advice, you hear a new idea or face a part of the situation you weren’t expecting. While this can be a good thing, it can also feel disheartening. Maybe you realize you’re in the wrong, or that the problem is deeper than you thought.
Remember that the person giving you advice has your best interest at heart. Here are a few things to keep in mind to receive advice with gratitude and make the experience as useful as possible:
1. Nothing is written in stone
Take all advice with a grain of salt. Your friends and family aren’t there to tell you exactly what to do, but rather to offer ideas and help you work out your thoughts. Don’t just accept ideas you agree with right away or ignore the ones that don’t immediately feel right. Think critically about them and how they might help.
2. Disagreement isn’t the enemy
Your friends or family might ask follow-up questions that make you uncomfortable or feel criticized. Remember that they’re likely trying to help find clarity or make better sense of the situation. They may even disagree with your stance. Conflict can make you feel uncomfortable — that’s natural.
But avoidance doesn’t get you anywhere. Studies show that different opinions are healthy and lead to better ideas and creative solutions, especially in the workplace. If you feel defensive, take a break and talk it through. It could lead to a breakthrough.
3. Nobody has all the answers
You’re seeking advice for a reason: you want help finding a solution to your problem. But you can’t approach a friend and expect them to fix things for you. Asking for advice is about working together, finding new perspectives, and feeling supported.
You learn more and gain new knowledge when you come to the conversation with an open mind. Be ready to evaluate your beliefs, decisions, and mistakes.
The importance of being there for your friends
A good friendship is important enough that just one or two close friends can make you feel the benefits of your mental and physical well-being. It’s all about quality — a few close friends and loved ones can dramatically impact your general happiness levels.
Being there when your friends need you has the obvious benefit of making them feel cared for, valued, and validated. But it can also make you feel more connected to them. Even if you have no advice to give, listening to their problems and offering support can be more than enough.
Advice through thick and thin
Advice is a responsibility. When your friends come to you for advice, it shows trust and vulnerability. Being there for them can make your bond stronger, and it reassures you that they’ll do the same when you have a problem.
Whether they’re turning to you for advice on friendship, family, or work, listen with your full attention. Ask questions, think critically and constructively, and work through ideas together. Hopefully, you’ll help find a solution. And if not, you’ll build a strong friendship in the process.