When a friend asks your advice, do you say what they want to hear?

by Joe Martin

Like most people, my friends occasionally ask for advice. Sometimes it's about something simple; other times it might be about more complex life issues. Most often, however, people seek advice on dating and relationships.

We are all very quick to give and receive advice on the subject of love and it can provide hours of conversation between friends. I’d guess that this topic is one of the most-discussed in the majority of friendship groups.

Friends ask friends for their opinions all the time. Yet sometimes we find, after sitting down with a friend and shelling out what feels like the best advice in the world, nothing you say seems to resonate. A lot of the time, people don't want advice. They want to be told what they want to hear.

So, what’s wrong with that? Nothing, in theory, if you see it as a way to boost their confidence. However, when it comes to relationships, the reason we seek the advice of others is because viewing such matters in a totally non-biased way is very, very difficult.

When people have asked me for advice in the past, I usually give them a go-get-em-style pep talk. In other words:

"Yes, you’re right. Her indifference probably doesn’t mean anything, definitely keep pursuing; she’s probably playing hard-to-get."

Other times I allay their fears: "Don’t worry if he never calls and doesn’t seem interested. Why not cling to that one great date you had as hope and continue to text him?"

Perhaps my best one is: "Yes, he must like you, as he always seems to call or text when drunk; that’s definitely when true feelings come out (and has nothing to do with drunken sexual desire)."

A few years ago I decided to put more effort into giving advice. It’s definitely not a great feeling watching a friend try and fail to get someone to like him or her. Instead of harboring ill feelings towards potential boyfriends or girlfriends, I decided to only offer constructive and honest advice.

If it sounded like he or she wasn't really interested, or indeed only interested after a few drinks, I would make that case.

After all, the majority of us have suffered from being the holder of (or target of) an unrequited crush and a lot of the time, we look back and think, "Why did I bother trying for so long if it was pretty obvious that he or she was never interested? Why did no one point this out to me?"

The next time a friend asks you for advice, listen closely to what he or she is telling you. Is this friend framing the situation in an overly hopeful way? Does he or she cite advice from other friends as a reason why you should agree?

Does this friend say things like, "Wouldn’t you agree?" or "I know he or she must like me a bit because of X, Y and Z?" If the answer is "yes" to any of these questions, your friend has likely entered into a stage of self-delusion. Don’t blindly agree with him or her.

Your friend might talk about an exemplar success story based on a similar situation from someone else. Examine this story carefully. Is it really the same as that situation? Doubtful.

Your friend might even throw in a sweetener like, "You always give such good advice in these situations." Or "I need a guy’s/girl’s perspective on this." These are also often ways of asking you to agree with him or her, and therefore give poor advice. Don’t fall for it.

You probably don’t realize it, but you might have been giving advice for years that is just crowd-pleasing.

However, there are two very distinct sides to this. If you are the person looking for the advice, don’t just seek a head-nodding "yes" person. Try your best to describe the situation as it actually is and try not to lead your advice-giver to the conclusions you want to hear. If you ask for someone’s advice, be prepared to get a differing viewpoint. That is, after all, the point of getting a second opinion.

Everyone makes mistakes in dating and life; learning from them is important. Very few people get it right the first time. We’ve all written off people we could have been great with and pursued things with people who are just not going to work. Making the same mistakes over and over again is just a waste of your time.

You will never break that cycle if your friends are too weak-willed or lazy to give considerate advice. In that same vein, they’ll never give that good advice if you are too inflexible to listen to opinions that are objective and might differ from your own.

Next time you are asking for or handing out advice, give it a little thought. It could just save on some heartache and embarrassment and maybe even speed up the path to happiness.

Photo via We Heart It