It is inevitable that at one point in our lives, somebody – be it a friend, a family member, or even someone on the Internet - is going to come asking for an opinion on something, be it an article of clothing, a situation they found themselves in, a relationship or whatever else they might feel another person’s input might be useful for them.

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Giving advice can be a form of bonding between people – feeling like you have somebody to turn to in times of trouble can be comforting, especially if this person seems to always know what to say to both bring emotional relief and a new point of view to take into consideration.

However, giving advice can be tricky sometimes, and if you find yourself in a pinch, here are some points to consider when you’re giving advice to someone in need for it.

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1. Be equally objective and subjective: When people ask for advice, they often say they want you to be as objective as possible, but truth is, they probably wouldn’t want you to be a cruel, coldhearted judge/analyst, especially if their problem is deeply hurting and troubling them. That is not to say you have to sugarcoat your advice or evade pointing out a solution just because it may be upsetting! What I am trying to say is that you need to make use of a trait known as diplomacy.

Politely give advice and be mindful not to hurt the other person’s feelings, while also not “hurting” the message you want to convey. Don’t call them an idiot right to their face even if that’s how they’re acting - let them know their thought process or interpretation of the situation is unreasonable while giving arguments!

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2. Don’t be afraid to put yourself in their shoes – and letting them know! You have probably heard or read at least once that it is not advisable to tell someone “If I were you...”
I, for one, disagree. Of course, you shouldn’t give the impression that you’re calling them a dumbass for not doing what you would do, or that you’re making the situation about yourself when it shouldn’t be – but sometimes it can be helpful to play pretend that you are the person you’re advising.

How?

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First of all, it may prevent you from being insensitive. After all, since this person asked for your advice, they probably care about you, or at least they care about what you have to say - and you don’t want to appear heartless, do you? From an outsider’s perspective, some things may appear completely blown out of proportion, but the moment you try to connect with the person’s emotions, you may find yourself understanding where they’re coming from. And that’s when you’re going to try walking in their shoes!

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But since they’re not yours, these shoes may not really fit you - that’s why you don’t have to beat yourself up over not being able to relate to the person 100%! You could never possibly feel exactly what they are feeling, you are a completely different person, with your own experiences, beliefs and values! The goal is to discover some of the reasons why this person is feeling a certain way about a problem!

Secondly, putting yourself in the person’s situation may actually help you help the person, because the problem becomes yours in an imaginary scenario, and your brain tends to work harder if it feels it is “directly” involved.

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Imagination is such a complex thing, that it makes use of multiple psychological devices and processes in order to “transport” you in a certain scenario – cognition, emotion, creativity, language are only a few – and it can be so powerful that it might just unveil the solution to the problem that's upsetting the one asking for your advice.

Now you might be thinking I’m contradicting myself. Didn’t I just say you can’t ever, possibly feel exactly what somebody else is feeling? What would be the point in transporting yourself in someone’s situation in that case?

Well – that’s exactly why you should do it - because you have a completely different perspective than the person that needs your help! By imagining what you would do if you were them, you might just help them decide what they should do!

Sometimes it can be a bit more difficult to advise someone without trying to imagine what you would or could do in that situation. Giving advice is, at its core essence, about what you would do if you were in this person’s predicament, right?

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3. Admit it if the situation they need advice on exceeds you! Nobody expects you to be all-knowing! If you really can’t come up with an answer to somebody’s dilemma, tell them so! You shouldn’t feel inadequate for it, and it’s infinitely better to acknowledge you can’t help rather than give the person wrong or useless advice. Most people would rather you say a sincere “I’m not sure what to tell you” than come up with some ridiculous, unrealistic solution!

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Lastly, don’t feel bad (ie guilty or cheated) if the person whom you advised chooses a different course of action than you suggested! The point of giving advice is pointing out some possible solutions to somebody in need for some guidance. They are under no obligation to follow what you said, and that doesn’t mean your advice is not useful!

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After all, you may not always know why they are asking for your opinion – maybe they need someone to validate their own point of view or, on the contrary invalidate it! Maybe something you said triggered a reaction out of them and they figured out what to do! Or maybe they are just curious about what you have to say although they already know what their next course of action will be.

Always give advice with an open mind and an open heart – the person whom you are helping will be grateful, no matter what they decide to do!

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