Glenn Stok studies self-awareness and emotional well-being. He writes about it to help his readers with social mindfulness.
Do you feel disappointed when you try to help a friend or colleague with their struggles, and they continue to make their lives miserable?
It's helpful to understand why some people don't take advice and use it to decide their best approach. At times we might merely give constructive feedback.
However, it could also be best to avoid the confrontation entirely. We never know if our advice is good for the recipient. Let's review this entire matter.
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.
They could be stuck because of the following reasons:
- They might be opinionated.
- They might have differing values.
- They might want evidence of the benefit.
- They might need specific handholding.
- They don't see the fundamental problem.
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. But for those who desire to take action with useful guidance, we still need to know how to handle it properly.
Their Opinions Can Stand in the Way
When a friend asks me for advice because they are not satisfied with something that’s happening in their life, I like to explain to them that they are the architect of their own life. I tell them that they can find new ways to create the future they would want to have. That’s how creative people solve existing issues.1
Then I tell them to make a plan and consider it an obligation towards their future. Some people get it and work on it. However, others have the opinion that they are doing everything right. They continue to stay with their turmoil and feel better merely complaining about their lives.
They Need Advice That Matches Their Values
Just because your advice is based on personal experience proven to be valid for yourself, it doesn’t make it worthwhile for another.
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.
They May Want 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.
Fear of the Unknown Can Cause Doubt
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.
Some People Need an Excuse
Some people don’t want to admit that they are wrong. It destroys their ego. They need to protect their self-esteem.
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. 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.
They want the satisfaction of hearing someone agree that they are doing everything right and not the reason for their problems. I find that I can't do much to help them.
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.
People in Denial Will Usually Ignore Advice
When in denial, people don’t recognize the seriousness of their situation, so they might ignore any advice. 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's best to save our energy and leave them alone. Sad to say.
Some People Just Need to Vent
Some people are upset about past failures. 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.
I will explain this with an example. I had a friend who always struggled with almost everything in her life.
I saw her pattern was due to her failure to take charge of essential details. 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.
She got upset with me and said she’d rather have recognition for what 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.
I realized that she needed to vent about her problems and not hear about any viable solutions. That was not what she needed.
She didn’t want to take responsibility for the way she was handling things. And she didn’t see the benefit of doing what I was suggesting. She just wanted to tell me her problems and have me listen.
You can see how frustrating that can be for one who wants to help a friend in need. But if one would rather not hear solutions, we need to leave them alone.
Some people merely need to vent and have someone listen to feel that their attitudes are validated.2
While they feel more comfortable venting, it’s best just to listen. Hopefully, when they are ready, they will ask for help, if not too late.
Failure To Take Responsibility
I enjoy helping people improve their lives when they have the desire to take responsibility and commit to helping themselves. I never do it with anticipation of anything in return. I merely love to see others become successful with their endeavors.
I am fully aware that some people are not interested in doing what's necessary to achieve their goals.
Giving guidance in those cases goes unaccepted, and I notice years later that these types of people are still in the same place they were at the start. We can't do anything to help those who have a lack of desire to get ahead.
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.
"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.
- Kevin Daum. (Sept 3, 2014). “8 Things Really Great Problem Solvers Do” - Inc.com
- Jennifer Artesani Blanks. (February 9, 2017). “How to (NOT) Give Advice” - Psych Central
© 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.