Despite one’s best intentions, though, offering advice for friends can sometimes lead to friction in a friendship. Not only can this be painful and frustrating for both parties, but it may also aggravate an already difficult situation for the person receiving the advice.
Thus, while it’s natural to want to help, it’s important to offer and give advice the right way. Licensed therapists like those available on the best online therapy platforms have years of experience to guide them in offering advice and are often the best persons to do so. But being a good friend inevitably means being solicited for advice, so it’s important you know how to give friend advice without ruining your relationship.
In this article, we offer 10 helpful tips for giving advice to friends—without letting it negatively impact your friendship.
1. Ask if They Would Like Your Help
Unless your friend has come to you directly, you need to first find out if they’re interested in hearing your advice. Many people struggle with asking for help when they need it, so for some, your offer may come as a welcome blessing.
Others, though, may not want your advice. They may prefer to work things out themselves, they’re not ready to talk about the situation yet, or they’re too embarrassed or upset to do so. If somebody turns down your offer for advice, don’t take it personally or react with anger or resentment. Simply let your friend know that if and when they’re ready to talk to you, you’ll be there to listen and help in any way you can.
2. Listen, Acknowledge, Thank
It’s important to actively listen to your friend as they describe their problem or situation—even if you feel like you already understand it.
As you listen, adopt an open posture to demonstrate your interest and engagement. Dr. Gorman, Ph.D., of the Global Listening Centre recommends uncrossing your arms and legs, using open palm gestures, leaning in, and nodding your head at regular intervals.
Afterward, acknowledge what they’ve said by summarizing the problem and thank them for sharing it with you. This will help ensure you’ve properly understood the situation and provide them with an opportunity to explain further if necessary.
3. Focus on Their Experience
Studies show that giving advice is less stressful than validating another person when listening to trauma. But for the person telling their story, that validation is important. Your first instinct might be to launch directly into giving advice. While well-intentioned, that eagerness shifts the focus of the conversation (and your thoughts) from them to you.
Remember to stay focused on their perception of the situation. Listen carefully to their story, and try to see things from their perspective. Your objectivity will come in handy later, but in the early stages of your conversation, it’s important to keep your attention on them. Otherwise, you may miss something critical or fail to react appropriately at a key moment.
4. Decide Whether You’re the Right Person to Give Advice
Some problems are best handled by professionals. If your friend is depressed, suffering from anxiety, or dealing with past or ongoing trauma, the best advice you can give them is to seek professional help. Many excellent online therapy platforms are available today that offer convenient and relatively inexpensive access to licensed therapists.
Think carefully about whether you’re the best person to be giving advice on a situation, and be sure to take your ego completely out of the equation when you do so. If you think somebody might benefit from professional guidance, gently tell them so and offer to accompany them on their journey.
5. Lead Through Questions and Conversation, not Instructions
One of the most effective strategies adopted by therapists, as described by Drs. Fanshell and Labov in their book, “Therapeutic Discourse: Psychotherapy As Conversation,” is to help people realize the solution to their own problem through tactful questions and open conversation—and not by instructing them.
The reason this strategy is so effective is that people tend to respond better to new ideas when they come from within and actively ignore or refute new ideas from the outside world. You may have the perfect piece of advice to help your friend, but it will be much more effective if you can get them to come to the same conclusion by themselves.
6. Try to Stay Impartial, Objective and Solution-Oriented
It can be difficult to listen to a friend express their sadness, pain, frustration, or regret. After all, human beings are hardwired for empathy. Do your best to stay impartial, objective, and solution-oriented.
This doesn’t mean you should be callous or minimize your friend’s feelings. On the contrary, as we’ve seen, validating their feelings is important and will make them more receptive to your advice. But to give the best advice, it’s important not to let your own emotions (like anger at the injustice they’re facing or frustration in their seemingly poor choices) cloud your judgment.
As much as possible, try to stay solution-oriented. Rather than ruminating on the problem once it’s been established, work towards solving it. Discuss possible solutions and their outcomes together, rather than focusing on the negatives of the situation.
7. Be Open to Just Listening
You may be eager to impart your wisdom and help your friend, but doing so too early isn’t ideal. If you’ve been upset about something before and just wanted to vent or rant, you know that sometimes, all you need is for someone to listen and acknowledge the situation and your emotions.
If somebody comes to you with a problem but doesn’t want your friend advice, try to simply accept that fact and be as supportive as possible. Demonstrate active listening, ask questions, and act as a sounding board for your friend.
Oftentimes, people know what they have to do deep down—they just need to work through their emotions before getting there. According to psychologist Charity Kurtz, Ph.D., the person hearing the vent plays an important role. By demonstrating empathy and providing a safe environment, you can help your friend get past their emotions and uncover the solution they may have already found but cannot yet access.
8. Be Patient and Supportive, Even if They Don’t Take Your Advice
It can be frustrating when somebody asks for your advice and then doesn’t take it. It might feel like they don’t value your opinion or lead to frustration that your friend is choosing to be miserable. Sometimes, being firm with a friend can work well. People might need someone to push them into action or snap them out of a bad situation. But it can just as easily alienate them and put stress on your friendship, which is the last thing you want.
Be patient and supportive with your friend if they don’t take your advice. They may just need some time to come around, or they might not have told you the full story yet, so your advice doesn’t quite fit. They may also not be ready to hear advice from a friend, especially if it involves them having to make some kind of sacrifice or hard decision like leaving a job or partner.
In these cases, it can be very helpful to speak to an impartial person, like a therapist. There are many excellent online couples' therapists to help a friend or friends who are struggling with their relationship and may not feel comfortable seeking advice from mutual friends.
9. Don’t Dictate—Collaborate
Adopting a collaborative approach lets your friend know you’re on their side and helping them rather than just preaching to them. People are usually more willing to accept help when you frame it as a collaboration.
Rather than using “you should” sentences (e.g, “You should tell your coworker to back off”), try to find ways you can work together to solve the problem (e.g., “What can we do together to figure out why your coworker’s acting like this?”).
It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers. People who ask for advice are rarely expecting a ready-made solution. Instead, they want to talk through the situation and get your perspective as an outside observer. Don’t just tell them what they should do—offer your help in finding a solution as collaborators.
10. Be Honest
Perhaps most importantly of all, be honest with your friend. Frame what you have to say respectfully and without judgment, but do not lie or shy away from hard truths if they need pronouncing. That’s what being a good friend is all about.
There are ways to go about it tactfully and spare your friend’s feelings and your relationship, though. If you do find you have something to say that your friend may not enjoy hearing, let them know you’re going to speak honestly. Try to sandwich your feedback by starting and ending with something positive, and be constructive in your criticism. After identifying the problem, offer a solution.
To give good advice for friends without ruining your friendship, you should be attentive, open, non-judgmental, patient, and honest. You must also decide if you’re the best person to offer advice, or whether your friend might benefit from speaking to an online therapist. If you do end up giving advice, try to do so collaboratively, and use questions to help your friend think through the problem so you can come up with a solution together.