The Difference Between Support and Advice

When you’re feeling challenged in life, it’s good to talk to someone to get support and advice but keep your wits about you. While Proverbs asserts there is wisdom and success the counsel of many it’s important to know the difference between support and advice.

It’s not good for you, or anyone, to keep your thoughts and emotions bottled up inside where emotional wounds can fester, get infected and spread their destructive poison.

When you’re talking to friends, especially those who are good at being supportive and/or empathetic, you might mistake the good support of a friend for advice. Try to remember there may be a dramatic difference between support and advice.

Support validates your feelings, friends who empathize with you understand and can even feel your feelings about the subject at hand. They support how you feel and agree with your point of view. If this is confused as advice, it can cement your position. This can lock you into a single perspective on a particular issue, and while you may feel better in the interim, this is probably not serving your highest and best.

The caveat regarding confusing support with advice is an important distinction because doing so can lead to dire results and is often the basis of enabling someone instead of healthfully or positively advising someone you care about.

Advice is best when the advisor challenges your point of view or position, encouraging you to take a look at your situation from different perspectives. Instead of blanketly agreeing with your, feeling sorry for you, making fun of your situation, or devaluing the other participants, situations, or circumstances, they challenge you.

Good advice comes from those who ask you to consider what it might like to be the other players in your situation or circumstance?

Or how might you have done it better?

Most of the time, when you’re feeling upset, all you need to do is to talk to someone, in an effort to get it off your chest, blow off steam, or let out some frustration. A good friend can help you to laugh at or find humor in even the most tragic circumstances. You’re not looking for advice. In fact, if all you’re doing is to look for someone to listen to you, attempt to understand, or support you, and if they hit you with a barrage of advice, this can be offensive.

It may be abrasive, may even feel like an assault, feeling as though someone is trying to tell you what to do, or control you, when they give advice, when all you were looking for was someone to talk to. Someone who could listen to what you have to say without judgment or advice.

Keep this in mind when someone wants to talk to you. Unless they specifically ask you for advice, they might just be coming for you to talk. And in these moments, the best thing you can do is to actively listen to what he or she is saying, to be supportive, and attempt to understand or feel what it might be walking in his or her shoes.

This is especially hard for me. Since most of the time, when people come to me, they are seeking advice, I just assume that’s why people talk to me, so I start to advise, even when I was never asked for advice. This presumptive position is erroneous on my part, and I need to work on trying to understand and know the difference between establishing if someone wants advice or just wants to talk it out.

Especially when someone is in crisis, its best to start with active listening and supporting only offering five words of your own, then following up later with more objective approaches.

The basic rule of thumb is, if someone is just sharing their story or feelings with you, and they have not asked for your advice, they just want someone to listen and be supportive. It seems like an over-simplification, but it’s true. And it might be harder than it sounds.

Especially if a friend is sharing a story which makes you feel sorry for, upset, or you are empathetically feeling your friend’s feelings and you want to help. You want to offer advice in an effort to alleviate your friend’s pain or angst. Resist doing so if they have not asked you for your help. Your help is best offered in the form of listening and supporting, not trying to advise.

When you are ready to seek advice, it’s good to collect input and data from a variety of sources representing different ideas and perspectives before deciding on a course of action, this is where there is wisdom and success for those who consult with a multitude of advisors.

No one can tell you what to do, all they can do is to share their ideas or feelings based on their experience(s) from their own perspective. Seeing any challenge or situations from many vantage points is beneficial for you, and there is indeed wisdom in doing so.

Listen: Help Someone in Personal Crisis

I’ve been in the people-helping business for a long time. Although the focus of my ministry (that’s how I refer to my work, so get over it) is not helping those in crisis, it is not uncommon for a regular client to come to a place where their life intersects with a crisis scenario.

This is one reason why I am thirsty for new modalities and methods of helping people dealing with unforeseen circumstance. Having these tools in my collection can help keep the client from being derailed and thrown off-track from their progress or goals (though it is not my specialty, so if the crisis is significant, it may be time for a time-out and referral to someone who specializes in this type of challenge).

All of us have the opportunity to help someone within our social inner circle – people we know or are well-acquainted with – who need a helping hand when encountering a life crisis.

In our attempt to help someone in crisis, are we more apt to help or harm?

Therapists, counselors and clergy all hold, “help and do no harm,” as the basis of their approach when helping others; as do the rest of us. Of course, in our attempt to help someone along their life’s journey, we would hope that our assistance would be more helpful that harmful.

When people are in crisis, they are in an altered state of mind. It is easy for us to forget this when we see someone that we care about – a friend, co-worker, relative or client – suffering when dealing with an unforeseen crisis.

Your first response to anyone in this altered state of mind is critical.

For example, let’s say your best friend from high school just happens to be in town on business, has been recently diagnosed with cancer and has been given three months to live. He or she wants to meet with you for lunch to talk.

You think, “This is great,” I know so many people who have been diagnosed with cancer and kicked it, naturally, I can’t wait to share all this information with my friend. You go about collecting all the data (personal testimonials, googled information, scriptures and sample nutrients) you can find, throw them into a wheelbarrow and rush over to help your friend kick their cancer to the curb. Hooray!

Wrong

When someone has just recently engaged with significant tragedy or bad news, their tendency is to sink into a somewhat depressed and/or angry state.

Your first interaction with them will either open them up to your assistance, or shut you out.

Being too aggressively helpful when someone is in psychological pain will result in them not being able to hear you. Unless they are asking you for ideas (and even so, please proceed with some restraint) their most important need is to be able to get rid of some of the frustration that they feel inside.

What they really need is someone to listen

In most cases to help someone in the best way possible is to just listen to what they have to say.

Establish trust by promising them confidentiality in regards to anything they might say – and be true to your word. Anything that they say doesn’t leave this room.

Let them use whatever terms or phrases that they feel like using, without judgment or interjection. Allowing them to vent freely without restriction is the best help you can offer in an initial sitting with someone in crisis.

Simply nod, actively listening, agree and/or encourage them to continue while they are letting it all out.

Then, when they have said all they have to say… pick your best five words to say – no more – and make an appointment to meet them to talk again.

The best way to help someone in crisis is to listen to them until they are done sharing

In doing so, you have established – with this person who is currently in a weakened state of mind – you care. If they are agreeing to meet with you again, then you can slowly and gently, offer advice (suggestions, not demands) and interact with them more, being careful not to appear non-compassionate, intolerant, have a lack of understanding or result in their alienating you.

If you truly want to help, consider, “being there,” for the people that you care about with compassion.

Show them you care by letting them share.