Good and bad advice – how to see a difference?


People are born with all the necessary drivers needed to discover what is good for them and how to master the requisite skills to achieve it. And then they meet advisers… When you are born you don’t know how to walk or how to graduate from the University. But you are born with abilities to learn all the necessary skills to find your way in life and succeed. So if only nobody disturbs it is certain that you are going to be okay. And giving advice is not needed. Instead you are instructed firstly how to pee, then how to write an “a”, later who to be and who to marry.

Let’s consider what is advice? What are situations in which we ask for advice or give it? In general, there must be a person trying to achieve a goal and lacking information necessary to do it. A person who gives healthy advice has this information and is able to share it. There must be also a moment when a person seeking advice directly or indirectly asks for it: if this person is not ready to take advice, even the best advice will not help! What is crucial here is the distribution of information: a seeker lacks it and an advisor has plenty of it. But very often we have to deal with situations when advice is given in a wrong way so to understand this problem better, let’s consider two most common problems with giving and receiving advice:

1. Advice is given although no one is asking for advice

Every day we have to make a number of small and big decisions. Sometimes they are easy but it happens that we have to choose between two good or two bad options and then we face decision dissonance – a situation in which a lot of our time and energy are consumed by a difficult choice.

In such a case it may be that we decide to ask someone else to decide for us or toss a coin or consider somebody’s opinion to enrich our final decision. But many times people tell us ”if I were you…” and cause a phenomenon called reactance which is a feeling that our freedom of choice is limited so we need to choose an option different from the advised one. It helps making a choice – but not obviously the best one.

2. Advice is given although an adviser lacks information.

It happens in two different cases. First of all, people have a natural tendency to give advice more often that it is needed and instinctively give advice when they encounter somebody experiencing difficulty with making a decision. The second reason people give advice is the fact that people want to feel better and wiser from one another so the possibility of giving advice is for many an opportunity to prove that they are better, more knowledgeable, experienced and – after all – helpful. Both of these motivations work to the disadvantage of an person receiving such advice because this can badly distract him or her from the real objectives.

So in general, it is better not to give advice if it is only possible. If we have to give advice it is better to ask questions so somebody we care about can realize the important aspects of a situation and make judgements accordingly. People often think that it is a psychologist’s job to give advice but in fact a good psychologist creates the right space for a person so she can activate her internal drivers that lead this person where she is meant to be. And it is as simple as that…

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