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The Advice Checklist


This rant list has been brought to you by a few comments on this blog post, and by observations about the internet in general. Before jumping in to immediately offer advice on all the things, please consider asking yourself the following questions. Thank you.

And yeah, I get the potential irony of giving advice about asking questions before giving advice. I also think there’s a huge difference between sharing my thoughts in a blog post and jumping into other conversations to tell an individual what you think they should do.

Did this person ask for advice?

Hint: Posting about something on the internet is not the same as asking for advice. Requests for advice usually involve phrases like “What do you think I should do?” or “I need advice.”

Do you think your advice is something this person hasn’t already heard?

Hint: I’ve been diabetic for 16 years. If you’re neither diabetic nor a doctor, I probably know more about my disease than you do. I’ve read the books, heard the advice, followed the online discussions, talked to the doctors, and so on. On a similar note, someone who’s overweight has probably already heard your advice to exercise more. Someone with depression has already heard your advice to “just think positive!”

Do you know enough about this person’s situation to give useful advice?

Hint: Telling someone with financial problems to get rid of their credit cards isn’t going to cut it if they’re currently paying legal fees following a divorce, are underwater in their mortgage, and just got laid off from work.

Are you more concerned with helping or with fixing the person so they’ll stop making you uncomfortable?

Hint: People talk about their problems for a range of reasons. To vent, to process their own feelings, to connect with others and know they’re not alone… If you genuinely want to help, great—but in many cases, giving advice isn’t the way to do that.

Are you more concerned with helping or with looking clever? Are you willing to be told your advice is unwanted?

Hint: If the person in question says they’re not interested in your advice and you respond by getting huffy or defensive or going Full Asshole, then this isn’t about the other person. This is about you and your ego. Take your ego out for ice cream, and stop adding to other people’s problems.

Are you sharing what worked for you or telling the person what they should do?

Hint: There’s a difference between “This is something that helped me,” “This is something you might try,” and “This is what you should do.” For me personally, the first option is easier to hear than the second, and the third usually just pisses me off. But also be prepared to hear that the person doesn’t want your advice, no matter how you phrase it.

Do you know what “giving advice” looks like?

Hint: I wouldn’t have thought this one was necessary. Then I got the commenter responding to one of my posts on depression by telling me, “Listen to your inner self and make it your outer self” and insisting he wasn’t giving me advice. He was just “stating an opinion.” Dude, if you’re telling someone what to do, you’re giving advice. If you’re getting huffy about it just being your opinion, you may also be acting like an asshole.

Have you asked whether the person wants your advice?

Hint: If you’re not sure what someone wants, asking is a pretty safe way to go.


I’m not saying you should never offer advice. A few days ago, I left a comment on someone’s Facebook post where she was questioning whether she should bother trying to get her book published. I offered my experience, disagreed with a writing-related myth she referenced, pointed to several options that had worked for myself or other writers, and acknowledged that my advice might or might not be helpful for her particular situation.

But I have zero patience these days for the useless, knee-jerk advice that comes from a place of ego and cluelessnes.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 26th, 2015 06:09 pm (UTC)
I appreciate a sincerely meant 'this worked for me', even if it's something that doesn't work for me or just not logistically possible, because it's an attempt to connect. If you tell me exercise helped your depression, there's an undercurrent of 'depression stinks, right?'. Then I can say 'yes, it helps, but not enough for me' or 'yeah, but it's hard to get motivated' or 'I live in upstate New York so winters are terrible and it's ruining my walking routine'*. The dynamic is a lot more even.

* Well, used to live.
Mar. 29th, 2015 02:10 am (UTC)
I thought that post was the depression equivalent of Scalzi's "Being Poor." It wouldn't have occurred to me to try and fix the author...
Apr. 7th, 2015 11:32 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately true not just of *strangers* on the Internet. I don't trust an acquaintance/friend as much as I used to, because he could not stop himself shoving the same (repetitive) helpful Pollyana how-I-lost-weight advice at several women who were trying to talk about the harm fat-shaming and weight-obsession had done them. He FINALLY shut up about it after I pointed out the gendered angle *twice* (after one last "I've been misunderstood but I'll hold off since you're all so oversensitive" post).

He means well, but *sigh*.
Apr. 15th, 2015 06:56 pm (UTC)
This was a useful post and I referenced it when I was typing at some friends. I came back because one of my references to your page is throwing an error now. This post used to have Clippy clipart on it. What happened to the jpg?
Apr. 16th, 2015 08:34 pm (UTC)
My website has been down for more than a day now, and that's where Clippy is hosted. He'll be back as soon as Verizon fixes their busted router.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines


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