The Montfort Group

How to Separate Helpful from Unhelpful Advice

It may be hard to avoid people who give advice. Often, their opinions aren’t helpful. Some guidance might be genuine wisdom, though, and it’s worth separating helpful from unhelpful advice.

Genuine valid feedback is rare. It’s like gold dust as self-development fodder. Typically, people’s opinions regarding what you look like, what you should do, and how you get things wrong are about them, not you. They reflect their own concerns. If you take useless feedback to heart, it could dent your wellbeing and self-image.

People often lecture others about things they feel insecure about. Hence, someone concerned about their weight might say you must eat more or less food. Behind their advice is the idea you should be more like a perfected image of yourself and less like you. But, now and then, someone offers genuine wisdom with the power to increase your health, happiness, or prosperity.

How will you know if feedback is valuable? 

Here’s how to differentiate between valuable and useless advice. Ask yourself if the guidance given syncs with your goals. If someone suggests you get a haircut, for instance, have you expressed the wish to change your image or attend a conservative event? If you’re not going to an interview and like your hairstyle, maybe the advice says something about its giver. Check whether the suggestions people make can improve your life. If the answer’s no, don’t take them to heart. Remember, they aren’t about you.

Why people offer unhelpful advice 

Mostly, people who hand out unhelpful advice don’t see it’s not good for you. If they stop to think, they might note their so-called wisdom won’t improve your wellbeing. But, because they aren’t self-aware, they don’t recognize their opinions stem from their own needs.

The individual who wants you to change your appearance, for example, might be preoccupied with their self-image and worry people will judge them harshly if they don’t look a certain way. They then transfer the need to streamline their looks to you. They might assume you would be better off altering your style to match theirs, but that’s an assumption.

Likewise, if someone suggests you socialize more and attend church when you are an introvert and an atheist, they haven’t got your interests at heart. They’ve considered what they enjoy and applied the idea to you when it’s a poor fit.

How to handle unhelpful advice 

You can’t avoid every individual who wants to dish out advice. Since you will come across them, it’s helpful to know how to handle their unwanted suggestions. Sometimes, a simple “thank you for that” will suffice. It will be enough to satisfy them and send them on their way. It’s more beneficial to be honest at other times and say, “I’m sure you mean well, but your advice isn’t right for me.”

Occasionally, someone may insist you embrace their ideas. You need not accept their advice, though. “I’ll think about it,” may silence them, or “I need time to digest what you’ve said.”

If the advice-giver is a beloved friend or relative, you might like to pose a question that helps to explain why they want you to change. When your favorite aunt says you should get a different job, for instance, “is having a specific type of profession important to you?” will help her divulge what’s behind her guidance.

Sometimes, you’ll find the advice given assisted the advisor in the past, and they want it to help you too. They may overlook the fact you have different needs than they have, but at least you’ll see they mean well.

Most of the time, people who give you unhelpful advice don’t realize it’s unbefitting. They haven’t thought their ideas through and related them to you and your lifestyle. Now and then, however, someone will give you the helpful advice you don’t want to miss. Check whether guidance is valid. If it makes sense and can increase your wellbeing, terrific. If not, don’t be afraid to take a pass.

Picture of Cory Montfort, MS, LPC-S

Cory Montfort, MS, LPC-S

I completed my Masters of Science in Counseling from Southern Methodist University where I specialized in working with individuals, couples, and families. I have extensive experience working within the mental health community facilitating groups, conducting assessments, counseling individuals, and performing crisis intervention. I hold an active License in Professional Counseling and am also a board-approved Counselor Supervisor for the state of Texas.

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