The Art of Giving Non-Advice

In case my blog doesn’t make it obvious, I love giving advice.

Giving advice makes me feel important and feeds my ego.

But tell me if you’ve had a similar experience…

Whether it’s counseling a friend through a breakup or being accountable in a mastermind, I realized that a lot of my advice didn’t stick. They would thank me for advice and carry on doing the same things that created their problem in the first place.

But I had a breakthrough when I was advising my friend about waking up earlier

“Well, that might work for you, but I’m a very different person.”

I realized how I had the wrong approach to giving advice.

I projected my values onto other people.

For example, one of my strongest values is freedom, whether in work or relationships.

Through that lens, when I talked to friends about their career, I was more apt to give them advice about starting their own business or doing side projects…even if they were perfectly happy in a corporate job.

So I’m flipping the script and asking what people’s values are.

What do you value?

Instead of giving advice, I’ve learned it’s more effective to have a conversation with that person about what’s important to them and why.

Through the process of inquiring about someone’s values, they are reminded of what they truly care about (and don’t care about).

Often, they gain more clarity about the situation than before the conversation took place.

Here’s a couple examples highlighting the old vs new way that I’m approaching advice…

Example 1

Old ApproachNew Approach
Friend: Should I take job A or job B?Friend: Should I take job A or job B?
Me: I think job A is better, it gives you more options.Me: What do you value in a job?
Friend: Well, creative freedom.
Me: Is there an option that aligns with that value?

Example 2

Old ApproachNew Approach
Friend: Should I keep dating this girl?Friend: Should I keep dating this girl?
Me: Well if you’re already ambiguous about how you feel about her, maybe that’s a sign you should reconsider.Me: What’s important to you in a relationship?
Friend: Well I really like her, but I feel like our friend groups don’t gel.
Me: Is it a core value of yours that someone you’re dating gets along with your friends, and vice versa?

So on and so forth.

I’ve been happy to find that there are several advantages to this values-based approach to advice.

Advantage 1: Less bias, more objectivity.

My old way of giving advice came from my ego. If someone came to me with a problem and I “solved” it with my advice, then I’m successful!

But this clouds the adviser from being objective…

How can I tell someone what to do if I don’t know what’s important to them?

Just an exaggerated example to drive the point home…

If someone asked me how to improve their diet, and I was a hardcore vegan, I might expound the benefits of veganism along with a dose of heavy moral judgment.

How likely is someone to stick to a diet if they’re doing it out of guilt?

If I asked why dieting is important to them, and what they hope to achieve, I might discover that the person values fitness. And that may lead to a healthier suggestion, like how certain diets can help improve energy and physical performance.

An examination of core values can produce recommendations that are more personalized yet less biased.

Advantage 2: Better root cause analysis

People rarely come ready with extremely well thought out, well-framed problem statements.

So they will ask something on a more superficial level that approximates what they think their problem is.

If I give advice to them based on that approximation, they can end up with the wrong solution…even if I’m right.

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. – Albert Einstein

Let’s say a friend asks us about how to handle a difficult coworker:

Why’s BoJack being such an asshole?

If we as advice-givers engage at that level of thinking, we may try to “solve” the wrong problem of fixing someone we don’t know (BoJack).

If we ask instead “How do you and Bojack’s values differ?” we might upgrade the problem from personal attacks to an evaluation of different communication styles.

Conversations about values go a long way to reveal the root causes of problems.

Advantage 3: Higher likelihood to take action

People I can get defensive when receiving advice.

When someone tells me what to do, or that I should try something new, my ego has a tendency to protect itself…and maintain the status quo.

Talking about values cuts through this defense mechanism.

Instead of feeling like they’re being told what to do (external), people are more likely to be motivated by what feels true to them (internal).

We also have this thing called ownership bias that makes us love our own ideas.

I also believe that conversations about values encourage the type of self reflection that produces deeper, better-reasoned thought.

Does the “help others help themselves” approach feel like I’m pretending to be a therapist?


Since adopting this way of giving “non-advice,” my conversations have been going so much better.

Instead of projecting my values onto others, this new approach is helping me understand my friends – and unexpectedly, myself – better.

Through these conversations about values, my own values get tested and refined.

But this is not a panacea for solving problems.

People aren’t necessarily looking at others to solve their problems for them.

Sometimes it’s better to do nothing and just listen.

But if you find yourself in a place of giving advice, try talking about values. It helps identify the true “what” and “why” of an issue, while the “how” more clearer for those seeking counsel.

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