Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on

You Don’t Have to Take Bad Advice

She might be your friend, but you don’t have to take her advice. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Your friend means well. Or maybe it’s your boss. Or your mother-in-law.

They’re so gentle, so kind. So concerned.

Perhaps they’ve had you over for dessert, or they have taken you out for a drink. Or they have pulled you to the side to give you a small suggestion for how you should handle your situation. Worse, maybe they’ve shared their proposal on social media.

But the advice they are giving you is awful. You won’t – you can’t – follow it because it is simply wrong.

Good news: You don’t have to take it.

You don’t even have to tell them you will.

Here’s how to know when you’re getting bad advice, and how to turn it down to avoid months of awkwardness and disappointment.


Hallmarks of bad advice

We can all give examples of bad advice we have received from concerned friends over the years.

  • You should play hard-to-get with that person you are interested in.
  • You shouldn’t tell that particular thing to your spouse.
  • If you want your kids to behave, you should hit them more.
  • If you want your kids to behave, you should institute this points system I got from a book.
  • Don’t let your emotions show.
  • In order to achieve it, you just have to see it in your head and it will happen.

Time and again, we have been given advice that we knew was bad from the beginning.

But what was that twitch we felt that helped us know the advice was bad?

What was our subconscious telling us?

  1. Bad advice often comes from someone who has an ulterior motive.

If you’re listening to the advice and it just doesn’t seem right, ask yourself, “What does this person gain if I follow their advice?” Does doing this help them prove a point to someone else? Does it change the view from their location? Does it make you more like them, and thus validate their world view without any concern for whether it helps you? For instance, is your mother-in-law pushing you to raise your kids the way she raised your spouse? This is a different era, and your spouse will be employing some of her methods anyway, from experience.

  1. Bad advice often comes from someone with no investment in the outcome.

That woman who leaned over her shopping cart in the checkout lane to offer you advice? You are never going to see her again. Why would you do what she says? What does Janet from accounting know about your kids and your situation?

  1. Bad advice often involves an element of magical thinking.

The best things in life cannot be achieved by doing “this simple trick.” Sure, the right product can take out a stain, but if your problem is that your son keeps using profanity, the actual solution might involve multiple steps. If the advice sounds too easy to be true, it is. Don’t follow it.


Hallmarks of good advice

Good advice, on the other hand, is often complex and backed with some evidence or research. And it speaks to your heart.

  • If you love this person, you need to let them know.
  • It will be hard, but you need to share this with your spouse. What if they find out some other way?
  • Getting your kids to behave in the supermarket takes practice. Try this small step next time.
  • If you want to achieve your dream, you need to write it down. Then take one step toward it every day.
Good advice often just feels right. Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on

Instead of simple solutions or easy formulas, good advice reflects the real world. In the real world, accomplishments happen due to effort applied over time. And relationships are built through respect, honesty, and vulnerability.

  1. Good advice just feels like it matches your value system

Good advice doesn’t make you feel worried. In fact, when you resolve to follow good advice, you often feel an internal sense of optimism, and perhaps a little nervous excitement. It builds on what you know to be true in this world.

  1. Good advice is realistic about time and effort.

There is no magic cure for pretty much anything other than some specific medical issues, and even those take time. Good advice matches this reality. It often comes to you with less certainty and a sequence of small steps to be taken in the direction of your goal. It is practical and involves right action, not merely hope, or a single step to success.

  1. Good advice most often comes from someone who is invested in seeing you be successful, not just seeing you do what they say.

Our closest friends are often the people who are least willing to give us advice. This is because they honor our friendship and ourselves, and they trust and respect our decisions. Our closest friends value our boundaries. When we know that someone wants us to succeed, and they gently cross into the arena of giving advice, they often do so very respectfully, and often by asking first. “I have an idea, if you want to hear it,” they might begin.

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Sakina Issa. Photo provided.

And remember: you don’t have to take the advice you are given, no matter who offers it. Ultimately your choices are your own.

Sakina Issa is a psychotherapist and a mental health expert who addresses mindfulnessself growth, and topics related to parenting and relationships. Read more of her insights, or schedule an appointment by hitting the red button on this page.

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