I don’t know about you, but throughout my life I’ve often regretted giving opinions, thoughts, or advice to others. Most of the time, people don’t want to hear what you have to say or even resent you for telling them what you think. Some people will even directly ask for your opinion and then resist and rebel against what you have to say. For example, when someone asks, “How can I spend less money?” and you tell them, “Stop going out to restaurants; don’t buy stuff that you absolutely don’t need; cut your cable bill (like do you really need 400 channels, internet, a home phone, and a cell phone with internet access?), and write down everything you spend,” you’re likely to get a “Yes, but …” answer.

Silence is indeed golden in many situations. You might wonder how, as a psychologist, I can endorse the idea of being silent. Most people think that the job of being a psychologist must involve giving advice all day long. Actually, the opposite is true. The best therapy involves guiding clients to discover their own solutions. That’s because people change when they choose to. And change is more likely when people believe that they have figured out what they want to do on their own. Therapy can provide the shovel, but people have to do their own digging.

One great part of being in the helping profession is that you really do learn from your clients and your own life experience. I’m excellent about following my own advice—that is, not giving advice in therapy, but less so in my personal life. Nonetheless, I continue to grow and change. Now when I watch my own adult children make some of the same mistakes that I’ve made, I try and hold my tongue knowing that my words will unlikely change their behavior (boy, it’s pretty darn hard to do). I’m not always successful—but hey, nobody’s perfect.

Okay, I can’t resist. Here’s some advice on getting and giving advice.

  • Don’t give advice unless you are specifically asked.
  • If someone gives you unwanted advice, say you will consider it—even think about listening to it.
  • Take your time and think before you give advice.
  • Never expect people to follow your advice.
  • For most situations, mixing family, friends, and business is unwise.
  • Ask for more details. Sometimes people don’t really want advice, they want to vent.
  • Help come up with several alternatives. In other words, brainstorm with the advice seeker.
  • Be empathetic and offer support when appropriate.
  • Don’t give advice in areas you are not qualified by profession or experience.
  • Refer to outside resources.

Don’t worry about listening to my advice about giving advice. I don’t expect you to follow it anyway—it’s just a thought!