Encouraging Friend or Unsolicited Advice-Giving Jerk?

by Ron Haynes

When Julie lost her husband to cancer, one of her best friends from high school came over to visit.

Liz could hardly choke out the words as she tightly hugged her dear friend. “Julie,” she whispered in her ear, “I am so sorry this happened, what can I do to help you?”

Julie couldn’t say anything right away. She just needed the hug because she felt like her legs couldn’t support her at that moment. “Thanks,” she sobbed, “I’m going to be okay, I just need some time. I’m … I’m so thankful I was able to tell him goodbye and I’m so thankful you’re here with me now.”

“I’m always going to be here for you,” she spoke so gently. “Anything you need and I’ll be here. Anything.”


Jason felt like he had been kicked in the stomach. When his boss, Gene, called him into the office, he knew something just wasn’t right, but he had no idea he would be given 5 minutes to pack his belongings and vacate his office. This was his dream job. Now it was gone.

At home that evening, he just stared into space as the sun slowly dipped below the horizon.

Ding. Ding-ding-DING! Jason hated that stupid doorbell.

It was Howie, his part-time friend, golfing buddy … and landlord. “Whatcha doin’ sittin’ here in the dark?” he asked he barged through the only half-opened door.

“I lost my job today, and I’m really not in the mood.”

“Why?” demanded Howie, “Whadja do wrong?”

“Nothing,” responded Jason, “other than just working at my dream job in a crappy economy.”

“Here’s what you need to do,” began Howie, “First you need to get your resume up to snuff, then you need to blast it out to every company in your industry. That’s what I would do if I were in your shoes. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about.”

“I dunno, Howie, I’ve got 9 months in my emergency fund right now I just need to think and …”

Howie cut him off, “Let me just explain something to you cowboy, this ain’t no time to be loafing around moaning and crying. Don’t you understand what’s happening here? You need to get moving on a job cuz I ain’t going to be letting you get a free ride around here. No free ride. Feeling motivated yet?”


Jessy squeezed out a big white blob of SPF 15 and began rubbing it onto the shoulders of her 14 year old daughter, Samantha. “Mommy, thank you for helping me pick out this two piece swimsuit this year. I really like it.”

Samantha’s two older sisters, Sara and Sally were already down on the beach, soaking up some Florida sunshine when Jessy saw her mother and her mother’s friend walking her way. “Oh great,” muttered Samantha. The mood suddenly became awkward and tense.

“Hey mom! Are you ready for the Independence Day fireworks tonight?”

“We sure are sweetie, and some great BBQ too! Those granddaughters of mine look beautiful out there.” Her mom smiled sweetly and gave her a cocoa-buttered hug. “You remember my friend Helen, don’t you?”

“Of course I do, how are you Mrs. Miller?” Jessy smiled.

“I’m fine, but those daughters of yours need to wear something more decent with all these men around,” Mrs. Miller snapped as she cut her eyes toward the beach and faked a dentured smile. “I had 5 boys and two husbands and I know how they are. If I’d had daughters, they would have never been allowed to wear bathing suits like THAT!”


The balm of encouragement is far different than the sting of unsolicited advice.

Notice I said “unsolicited” advice. When someone asks for advice, when someone actively seeks your counsel, that’s a far different matter. The problem is: too many times we give advice when we should be giving encouragement.

The next time we’re tempted to say, “Let me give you a piece of friendly advice,” let’s just keep out mouths closed and listen to what our friend is trying to say, offering encouraging words instead of our professional opinion. Deal?

Encouragement Says:
How can I help?
Unsolicited Advice Says:
Here’s what I would do … and how I would do it.

Encouragement Says:
I believe in you!
Unsolicited Advice Says:
Follow MY steps to get things done … because I know more than you.

Encouragement Says:
I’m here for you.
Unsolicited Advice Says:
Here’s what you need to do … and how you need to do it.

Encouragement Says:
What do you need from me?
Unsolicited Advice Says:
Let me just explain something to you … since you’re incapable of understanding it without my explanation.

Encouragement causes people to feel empowered. It strengthens relationships. It deepens the bonds between people. It is almost ALWAYS welcomed, remembered, appreciated, and cherished.

Unsolicited advice makes people feel beaten down. It tears down relationships and inadvertently builds walls. It is almost always unwelcomed and the advice that’s given is usually ignored, even if the advice was good advice! Getting advice you didn’t ask for is rarely motivating and usually puts the very person you’re trying to help in a bad mood.


Encouragement is: Unsolicited Advice is:
Complimentary Critical
Appreciated Abandoned
Helpful Hurtful
Humble Haughty
Caring Condescending


Many blogs (like this one) give lots of advice, but you always have the option to click away and no one will ever know. But when you have a “friend” standing in front of you telling you what you should do, or what they would do if they were in your shoes (they’re not), or how they know what they’re talking about and you don’t, you’re options are limited. Publically ignore them and YOU look like you’re the jerk. Say nothing and they think they’re getting through to you. It’s a no-win situation.

The next time you feel the need to give someone unsolicited advice – I’d encourage you to stop, think of something encouraging to say and remember the old saying:

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Who can you encourage today? Do you have a friend who’s lost a job or maybe even a loved one? How about someone going through some tough times with their teenager or in-laws? Maybe you know a mother who’s experiencing a rough stretch with her three kids under the age of five or someone struggling to perform their job and they’re worried about how they will put food on the table if they become unemployed. Let them know you believe in them and that you’re there for them.

On the flip side — don’t always think that struggling people are the only ones needing encouragement. People who appear successful on the outside also struggle with worry, have fears of not measuring up, and experience feelings of lonliness. Everyone needs encouragement. Everyone.

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1000 articles on The Wisdom Journal.

The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.

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Positively Present

Such a fine line between the two. I love the way you gave examples of each — great stuff!


If you want to give advice, you can always prepare the other person by asking first. “I have some advice — do you want to hear it?” Encouragement is also not necessarily appropriate, especially between two masculine individuals as receiving encouragement can be a sign of weakness. The first examples, seem like classic interactions between feminine individuals and second example is a classic interaction between two masculine individuals. Women listen, men are problem solvers.


I don’t necessarily disagree, but I think we should be very careful about throwing advice around unless it’s asked for in advance (but that’s just a personal opinion).

As far as encouragement goes, I’ve yet to find men or women who couldn’t use more of it. Yes, women are better listeners on average and men are prone to look at every situation as a problem to be solved, but both can adapt and change as part of their maturing process.

Srinivas Rao

I definitely can sense the fine line between the two. I notice that toxic friends who you have to eventually ditch are the ones who tend to be the advice giving jerks. The encouraging ones are the ones you want to keep in your life.

Peter Piper

There are only two ways that you learn: one when you are knocked down and have to pick yourself up again, the other when a mentor stands besides you and urges you over the bump. Now we can all be solipsists and live in a bruised world of toothless ‘hard knocks’, or we can honestly say to someone, hey, stupid, don’t just sit there waiting for something to happen!

I was swimming the other day in the local lake and a kid swam away from the roped off area and asked if I would swim across the lake with him. At first I just swam slowly so he could keep up, but after awhile I started giving him advice on calming down, breathing normally and smooth strokes, and on the way back, began coaching him on how to be a distance swimmer.

Now I could have just left it at encouragement, those soapy ‘Mommie says you’re doing so well!’ blandishments that make kids cringe when they find out from their friends the truth later, or drown swimming alone. Instead I chose the unsolicited advice path, and he is all the better swimmer for it!


If he “asked” you to swim across the lake, I wouldn’t call that unsolicited! When someone is gasping for air, I think we can assume they’re asking for help and advice.

And encouragement doesn’t have to be a cheesy load of bologna, it can be instructive, just like you pointed out.


Unsolicited advice – welcome to the world of a pregnant woman! Even strangers have advice for you.


I can totally relate to what you’re saying, because I do this all the time (especially with the first situation). Unless a friend asks me for advice, I prefer keeping my mouth shut and just listen to what they want to say….
and I also find people who give unsolicited advices annoying.


A friend of mine who often keeps my four year old son pulled me aside and asked “Have you ever gotten your son tested for developmental delays? I said no. She goes on that she has observed that he holds a crayon, pencil, scissors a little funny and she can’t ever understand anything he says when he talks. She said “You should try and go ahead and find out about speech therapy now instead of later.. blah.. blah… I just stared at her. I thought seriously? Is she telling me what I need to do? This is ridiculous. I didn’t know what to say w/out being hateful, so I just left. What could I say to shut her up nicely?


First, realize that she means well (probably). Next, I’d reassure her that you are well aware of your son’s development and that he is within normal ranges (if he indeed is). If you’re already dealing with any “developmental delays,” tell her that she’s a little late to the party.

In times past, people seemed to keep their mouth shut, but with the Internet, everyone’s an expert after a short Google search.

I have a nephew that didn’t talk AT ALL until he was 26 months old and seemed developmentally challenged, but today he’s preparing for medical school after graduating college ahead of schedule.

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