Advice? Suggestions?

I am really not asking for any advice or suggestions here, but I am hoping you will read on because the difference between the two is often not fully understood. While various dictionaries do delineate the differences, so many people use the terms interchangeably and, while this is generally not an issue, it can have serious ramifications.

When I am asked for advice (I am rarely asked for suggestions!), I immediately process what I deem to be a profile of the person asking.

I have a neighbor who has become heavily involved in some renovations, but has no experience to draw from however, he does know that I totally renovated the interior of my home. He asks for advice a lot! I will give him advice because he wants to get some work done, and wants to learn how to do things. I see nothing deeper than that. It is a simple sharing of knowledge.

In total contrast however, if a friend asked me for my advice, and my assessment was different, then I would offer suggestions. What could be different?

So many personal issues have a self-esteem component. A poor self-esteem can destroy relationships; lead to generally anti-social behavior; can encourage substance abuse, and can even lean towards a suicide attempt. The primary goal of anybody who wishes to assist a person where self-esteem is an issue, is (no surprise!) to help boost their self-esteem!

How can you tell a low self-esteem? Without any training in psychology, there are some signals which are easy to pickup on. They will be negative about themselves! (“I cannot keep a relationship together” – “I keep making bad choices” – “I cannot make decisions” – “I really hate socializing”) In a low-self esteem scenario, the person may well ask for your advice… but if you give it?

If your advice was good, they are likely to think how smart you are, and will be asking you for more at a later date! If your advice was bad, then they will probably think that, once again, theyΒ  made a bad choice by asking you in the first place (“Why can’t I make good choices?”). In neither scenario was their self-esteem positively impacted and, in fact, could well have been negatively impacted.

What if you offered suggestions? A whole new set of parameters are brought into play because, by offering a suggestion, the other person has to make the ultimate decision, and this is where your thoughtfulness is important. You should only offer a suggestion that you believe is viable and, in the event of multiple ideas, you should steer the other person’s thinking in the direction of the suggestion with the greatest chance of success.

We will often “beat ourselves up” over a bad decision, but we will also “celebrate” our good decisions. What I find really interesting is that regardless of where the idea came from which triggered the ultimate decision, the person making said decision will feel good about it.

In summary, you may get thanked for your input, but ultimately the decision was theirs and, if you did your “job” well, their self-esteem will get a boost as a result (“Hey… I just made a good decision!”)

Food for thought!


16 thoughts on “Advice? Suggestions?

    • Hi Prajakta. That is a common problem but, as long as you can understand the difference between advice and suggestion… then you cannot go wrong by always suggesting some options (i.e. do not offer advice). If you are specifically asked for advice, then your response may be something like “Well I have a few ideas that you might want to consider.” If they are pushing for a definitive answer, then offer the pros and cons of whatever you proposed earlier. If this ends with “Well what would you do?”, then your response could be “What I would do is not important. What is important is what you are going to do”…. and generally avoid making their decision for them! πŸ™‚


  1. It depends on the subject of course, but if someone comes to me with personal problems, I am offering suggestions! Advice sounds too diterminant to me. I cannot tell someone what’s the best thing to do for them. They need to make a conscious decision themselves and need to know it was their decision. Also, they need to take responsibility for their decisions. But showing them situations from several points of view and asking questions (!) can make them see what they need to do.

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  2. I agree, it is a complex issue and requires skill at times. I find most of the time, that I am just a sounding board. They ask for it, I give it, they disregard it. I have thought of printing out business cards with a disclaimer. I will give you the holder of this card, the requested advice, you must realize however there is a high probability it won’t help, as chances are, you will not follow it. πŸ™‚

    I think your right on target Pete.

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