Glenn Stok studies topics on self-awareness and emotional well-being and writes about it to help others with mindfulness and self-doubt.
It’s an awful feeling when you try to help a friend or colleague, and your advice falls on deaf ears. That happened to me so many times that I decided to do extensive research into the reasons behind it.
This article is a result of that research. Its purpose is to understand when we need to take a step back for our own sanity, and leave others to fend for themselves.
Reasons Why People Don't Take Advice
Even when people come to us for advice, their minds may not be free to accept critical guidance. They may think they want help, but they end up rejecting it when unhealthy attitudes affect their judgment.
Some reasons for refusing to accept advice are due to being opinionated, having differing values, wanting evidence, and needing specific handholding.
More extreme issues can also stand in the way, such as the need to protect their ego, having excuses, and not taking responsibility for their own actions.
I’ll discuss each of these problems to make it clear why we can’t always help people with advice, even when they ask for it.
How Can I Help People Who Don’t Listen?
You can be a mentor. People don’t always see the fundamental problem. That’s why they might be stuck. Giving good advice includes some sort of mentoring in this case. One needs to guide the other to help them see the big picture.
If you can’t help someone see a potential for disaster, they will not be motivated to do anything about it. The solution is to provide a plan-of-action that’s necessary to see the results. Propose a sequence of events that lead to the outcome they might be overlooking.
When someone decides to do something that's not in their best interest, a mentor might ask how they came to that decision. The next question would be, “What are you hoping to get out of that?”
That line of questioning could help one see where they are headed. If it were not a good choice, a mentor would ask, “Why do I feel that way?”
Feelings usually bring out the truth behind a bad decision, but the process I just described may be ineffective if one’s ego stands in the way.
Ego Can Create a Stumbling Block
We tend to want to help friends in need of guidance, especially when we see they are involved with destructive behavior. However, their ego could be in the way.
Some people don’t want to admit that they are wrong. It destroys their ego. They need to protect their self-esteem.
They will never admit that anything else is better than what they were doing. They would rather believe that their failure is due to something beyond their control.
Advice From an Authority Figure Can Be Threatening
Some people have an issue with authority figures. If that’s how you’re coming across, they will reject your advice. And for a good reason.
Try to determine if you are the problem. Are you trying to change the other person based on your own judgment or opinion? That’s not a good thing.
However, if you genuinely know how to make things better and you believe you have useful guidance to offer, then it's necessary to present it in a non-threatening way. It’s best not to lecture.
When trying to help someone, guide him or her with helpful suggestions, but without sounding like you’re telling them what to do. Let them take it from there and proceed. If they still don’t want to, it may be due to any of the other problems I’ll be discussing here.
Advice Needs to Match Values
Everyone follows his or her desired path in life based on a personal value system. They are strict about their feelings and usually will never deviate from their values.
If advice does not agree with their values, they will reject it—no matter how good it is. You can only successfully give advice if it’s consistent with one’s beliefs and values.
Advice Needs Evidence of Benefits
One will hesitate to accept advice when they don’t know if it’s good or bad. Intelligent people might be the hardest to give advice. They want evidence that it’s beneficial, and you can’t blame them for that.
A well-rounded plan of advice needs to be complete with clearly stated positive outcomes to be expected. If it’s not thorough with positive conclusions, you’ll have difficulty convincing someone of its benefits.
Some People Need an Excuse
Excuses allow placing blame on something or someone else so they don’t have to face the consequences of their actions.
When someone needs to be right all the time, and you show that they are wrong, they get angry with you because they no longer have an excuse. It’s as if they're saying, “How dare you take away my excuse!”
They become discouraged because they need to have some excuse to feel better about their actions.
Failure To Take Responsibility
Some people don’t know how to follow important instructions. Taking advice, in some cases, requires carrying out specific tasks—especially if it relates to complex issues.
I’ve had an experience where one person didn’t follow my advice as specified. He modified my original instructions to suit his own agenda without realizing the reason for my specific method. He ended up failing at it and in worse shape. Then he even tried to blame me for it.
If you know someone with that attitude, who never appreciates the reasoning behind specific tasks, it’s best to stay away and avoid trying to help them. They won’t take action on the advice anyway, and worse, they’ll blame you for anything that goes wrong.
Fear of the Unknown
When one has a fear of the unknown, they might avoid following advice—even that given by an experienced mentor.
The only way to help someone stricken by fear is to show him or her the outcome with some method of visualization. That doesn’t always work, but if it matters enough, one might get past their fear and work on the changes required to get to a goal.
Lack of Time Perspective
Some people live in the past. They are upset about past failures, and they dwell on it, complain about it, and they look for others who will help them rationalize the terrible situation they’re in, rather than help them move forward.
They can’t look to the future. Therefore they don’t listen when one tries to help them improve or correct some aspect of their lives.
They need to recognize the value of making small changes over time. They need to appreciate that life can change over a while. That’s the view of a time perspective. If that view is lacking, they can’t see how the advice can work.
People in Denial Will Always Ignore Advice
When one is in denial, they don’t see the reality of their situation. No matter what we do to guide them, they will avoid accepting the truth. They are fooling themselves, and nothing can be done about it.
That pattern is the result of many of the examples I reviewed above. They will continue fooling themselves until they get over it and can get past the roadblock they set up for themselves.
I never found a way to get through that. The more I tried, the more I realized I was upsetting the person I was attempting to help. When people are in denial, it best to save our energy and leave them alone. Sad to say.
Some People Just Want Acknowledgement
The following example shows how one can ignore advice for several of the reasons I discussed.
I had a friend who always struggled with most everything in her life. I saw the pattern was due to her failure to pay attention to detail and take charge of the parts of her life that were falling apart. However, I found it impossible to help her from all the chaos she created for herself.
She was deeply in debt and couldn’t pay the mortgage. She had some equity in her home, so I told her to sell it before the bank forecloses for non-payment.
She got upset and said she’d rather have recognition for the things she can do right instead of being told what she’s doing wrong. She completely misunderstood my intention, and she refused to do anything about it.
She didn’t want to take responsibility for the way she was handling things. She was in denial. She didn’t recognize that time was running out, and she needed to make changes before losing her home. She didn’t see the benefit of doing what I was suggesting.
You can see how frustrating this can be. You probably will agree with me that we want to help our friends, but if they would rather have a difficult life, we need to take a back seat and leave them alone, even if it means letting them dig a deep hole for themselves.
The friend, in this example, had eventually lost her business and her home. I saw it coming. I tried to make her aware of her fate, as gruesome as it sounded. But all she wanted was to be told how wonderful she is at handling other things that had nothing to do with her predicament.
Some Advice Is Truly Bad Advice
I felt it invaluable to conclude this article with this rationale for completeness.
I'll be the first to admit that not all advice is helpful.
When one tells a friend something for their own good, and they ignore it, there might be a self-destructive reason for failing to take the advice, as I discussed throughout this article. But what if the advice-giver is misjudging the suitability of the advice for the recipient?
For the one receiving advice, it’s vital to know how well the advice-giver knows you and knows what you’re capable of doing.
I’ll give you an example. When I was young and considering buying my first house, I was thinking of buying a two-family home to rent one unit and live in the other. A colleague offered advice with the statement, “You don’t want to be a landlord!”
Really! How would he know what I wanted to do, or what I could do? Unfortunately, I listened to him and bought a single-family home instead. I later regretted that choice because I saw how real estate values had increased, and it would have been a great investment.
Indeed, it’s still worthwhile to listen, because some valuable information may come from the advice. Nevertheless, sometimes one needs to take it with a grain of salt, as long as that's not an excuse for all the other reasons I covered.
"I can only show you the door"
You might want to guide someone in need of help. You might try to free their mind of anxieties standing in the way, but they are the one who needs to take action.
A line I remember from the 1999 movie “The Matrix” makes it clear how advice can only be useful when the receiver accepts it. I’ll leave you with that movie snippet as a conclusion to this discussion.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Glenn Stok
Riffat Junaid from Pakistan on July 25, 2020:
Great article Glenn Stok, you are right sometime we want to help others but couldn't due to their behavior.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on May 21, 2020:
Adrienne, That's interesting how the same problem applies to dog owner's attitudes with their pets. Thanks for mentioning that.
Adrienne Farricelli on May 21, 2020:
This was a great for me. As a dog trainer, it can sometimes happen that some dog owners may not be willing to make changes in their behaviors in order to help their dogs. This read helped me understand what defense mechanisms may be at play.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on May 14, 2020:
FlourishAnyway - Those are definitely things that cause trouble with accepting good advice. Confirmation bias is a complex problem that causes people to use untested information to confirm their beliefs. Thanks for mentioning that.
FlourishAnyway from USA on May 14, 2020:
You give excellent options. I’d say my first choice would be confirmation bias — the need to hear that your idea is the correct plan of action. Decision paralysis may also be a factor.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on April 06, 2020:
Dora Weithers - I can see that you have a knack for self reflection. That capability helps appreciate the underlying factors involved with taking or rejecting advice.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 06, 2020:
Thanks for sharing your insights on this matter. You help us be realistic about why people, including ourselves, may reject good advice. There are so many underlying factors which we may not take the time to consider, but now we know that we should.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on April 06, 2020:
Venkatachari - It’s true that we can’t do anything for them when they don’t want to hear other options. Unfortunately, these are the same kind of people who can’t do anything for themselves either, since they don’t want to entertain solutions that could work.
Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on April 05, 2020:
This is an interesting point discussed here by you, Glenn.
It's true that most people do not like advice if it goes against their wishes and presumptions. We can't do anything for them.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on April 04, 2020:
Pamela Oglesby - I agree. I only offer advice when it's asked for. But even then, many people don't want to accept it for the reasons discussed.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 04, 2020:
This article is sure interesting. I am sure all of te reasons you listed apply to people who don't listen to advice. I never offer advice unless it is asked for dur to all the difficulties you listed.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on April 04, 2020:
Liz Westwood - Yes, that's a common problem too. It's similar to the example I gave of the friend who wanted acknowledgement. She had her mind set on letting the bank take her house, and she couldn't see any other solution even when it was clearly presented to her.
Liz Westwood from UK on April 04, 2020:
This is an interesting article. I wonder if some people don't follow advice, because they come to you with their minds set on a course of action. They are actually looking for you to affirm their choice, not to advise differently.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on April 03, 2020:
Manatita - These problems sometimes occur even when they come to us for help. I spoke about that in another article on a similar topic, but I'll add that concept to this article too, since it's important to know.
manatita44 from london on April 03, 2020:
A very extensive Hub with some very valid reasons too, why we humans may not take or reject advice. I guess after an initial or couple attempts, we should move on. They will come to us if they need us.