Is Your Well-Meaning Advice Accidentally Causing Shame?


The Problem With Giving Advice

Is Your Well-Meaning Advice Accidentally Causing Shame?

How Coaching, Helping, and Fixing Can Hurt The Ones We Love (And What to Do Instead)

Trying to coach or fix someone without permission is a subtle way to shame what they are feeling.

We are essentially saying, “Your current feeling is not okay. Get rid of it.”

No matter how well-intentioned our advice, coaching, and attempts to change others are, we are almost always making a lot of unchecked assumptions and projections:

(1) We judge their feeling (projecting our own discomfort with it)
(2) We assume that they are not okay with how they are (assuming we know what they think)
(3) We assert that we know better than they do (assuming we know what they want)
(4) We offer help (assuming they want it, projecting what we want onto them).

Do they want your guidance? Can you really help?

There’s generally no problem with coaching someone when they ask you for it, and you actually understand their problem and have good guidance.

Too often this is not case. Too often people offer advice without even checking in on whether or not someone wants advice. Chances are they don’t. And even if they believe they have a problem, they may not want your solution.

And even if they do want to change, chances are you don’t know what’s best for them. Are you drawing from a sample size of one (your experience), or none (your theory)? Is this really an area of your expertise, or is it in a different domain? Even a really amazing football coach will be ill-equipped to coach a baseball team.

Coaching to avoid being vulnerable

Giving advice is a good way to avoid getting in touch with our own feelings and sharing our own vulnerability. In a professional context this might be useful, but amongst friends and family it will put a limit on intimacy. So even if the above conditions are met, it is best to check our assumptions and own our experience.

Checking our assumptions and owning our experience

Here are few examples of ways people subtly shame someone for the way they are in the moment, what’s unsaid, and some alternatives.

Note that in all of these cases, the intention is more important than the words. If the intention is to help them, we are judging their experience (assuming they need and want help). If the intention is find out more about what it is like to be them in this moment, genuinely excited to discover something new, we are welcoming them as they are.

Coachy Phrase

Underlying Message


“Try this technique…”

Be different / I know what’s best for you.

I’m sad to see how this is affecting you and I want to help.

“Have you ever tried…?”

Be different / I know what’s best for you.

I’m feeling uncomfortable and I want to help you.

“When I was in that situation, I did ____ and now my life is awesome.”

I’m pretending to own my experience but I think your life sucks right now. Also, you’re less developed than me since I’ve already been through that and “fixed” it.

I sympathize with you, and it is hard for me to hear about what you’re going through.

“What would it look like if …?”

If you follow my line of thought you’ll see that how you are now sucks and there’s a better way to be. (I’m pretty sure I know what it is but I want you to find it for yourself)

I’m judging the way you see the world.

OR checking assumptions: It seems like you want something different. Is that true?

“If you weren’t _____, how would you be?”

The way you are is not cool.

 I’m uncomfortable with the way you are.

OR checking assumptions: Do you want something different?

“I feel like you should …”

Advice-giving disguised as “I” statement.

I’m feeling uncomfortable.

“No need to feel that way.”

Subtle shaming

I’m noticing that I want to reassure you.

“Why?” (judging tone)

If it is judgemental, it is either a subtle shaming statement or a leading question to try to get them to be different.

I’m shocked to hear that.

OR checking assumptions:

Ask with genuine curiosity to understand what it’s like to be them in that moment, holding that belief.

Image: some rights reserved by worldwaterweek

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About Jordan
Jordan Myska Allen is a lover of life, entrepreneur, Course in Miracles student, happy person, deep thinker, friend, Integral aficionado and constantly questioning everything he identifies with—and might put into a biography. He acts as a psychological, spiritual, and professional consultant, writes about how to be happy for, and practices applied integral thinking.

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