Avoid Advice-Giving

“When you speak to me about your deepest questions, you do not want to be fixed or saved: you want to be seen and heard, to have your truth acknowledged and honoured.”
~Parker J. Palmer

Before we dig into this section, let’s consider shifting our language and mindset from “helping” to “supporting” when we are working with someone. When we come alongside and support, we are encouraging the growth of a person’s self-determination, rather than trying to fix them. Even shifting our language from using the word “help” to “support” goes a long way in creating an ecology that supports self-determination.

As peer support workers, rather than giving someone advice, we work to help them uncover and trust their inner teacher. No fixing, no saving, no setting each other straight. Instead, we keep honouring the relationship at the core of our interactions, and we support people to tap into their inner wisdom and find the answers within.

When we give advice, we are always giving advice based on our own personal experiences. Our advice is rooted in our own perspective. The people we are supporting have different experiences, beliefs, values, hopes and dreams. Even when we have much in common there are always differences.

When we are tempted to give advice, it is essential that we recognize these facts. There is a time and place for concrete advice. If we go to a lawyer for legal advice, a doctor for support with a heart condition, or an accountant for tax support, then we want some very concrete advice. However, when we are dealing with issues closer to the soul and heart, we need a different approach.

For Reflection

  • Have you ever been sharing a problem with someone, and they jumped in and gave you advice? How did that make you feel?
  • Have you had an experience when you shared something personal with someone you trust, and rather than giving advice, they asked you questions? Did that support you with figuring out what your next steps should be? How did it make you feel?
  • Has there been a time when you asked for advice, and got exactly what you needed? Who did you ask? Why was it what you needed?

But What if we are Directly Asked for Advice?

We get into this work because we want to make a difference. We want to “help” people, and often “helping” feels like it goes hand in hand with advice-giving.

“Helping feels good to the helper, but over time it may make the helped feel incompetent.”
~Ellen Langer (Mindfulness)

How do we not give advice? Isn’t it rude not to give advice if we are asked? Won’t it create disconnection?

These are common questions when we first learn about self-determination and advice-giving. If you are feeling this confusion, you are not alone! It can feel very hard to avoid giving advice when we are asked for it, especially when we have lots to say!

The key is to remember that people need to be intrinsically motivated to make a change. And that advice-giving is essentially extrinsic. So even if we are asked for advice, it’s important to remember that our advice does not support their self-determination.

So, when someone asks for advice, we can instead ask them intentional questions that support them to tap into their own inner wisdom and find their answer within. We get to reflect what we notice and hear, so that they are better able to trust their own wisdom.


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Post-Secondary Peer Support Training Curriculum Copyright © 2022 by Jenn Cusick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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