Are They Asking For Advice Or Support?

A person comes to you for help. Maybe they need an ear. Or a friendly shoulder. Professionally or personally. We’ve all been there – so, what do you do?

A good starting point is to figure out if they’re looking for advice or support

Author/therapist Lori Gottlieb distinguishes usefully between the two. As an advice-industry professional, I see the value in this distinction all of the time. It’s key to taming our advice monster. 

“I need help” isn’t a one-size-fits-all statement. The types of “help” are numerous. The faster you assume you know which peg is fitting the hole, the faster you risk being wrong. 

And un-helpful. 

If my client-facing work has taught me anything, it’s that listening and questions get you closer to most solutions than statements and answers. 

Gottlieb says when people are looking for “support,” they’re looking for your presence. They want to feel you’re there for them. They don’t necessarily need any suggestions or directions, but they do need to feel like you’re with them in this exact moment. 

When people are looking for “advice,” they’re looking for input. But usually not singular, closed-off input. She suggests offering advice in terms of what you would do, and adding the caveat, “It’s only one potential path here – what do you think?”

What these both have in common is they take what might look like a one-way request and remind us they can be a two-way street. Conversations win battles. Relationships triumph over wars. 

If they’re asking, we’re already in a good place. Conversations and relationship-building keep us there. Personally and professionally, we need to keep talking.  

Bonus: want to go deeper? You can also add “Idiot Compassion vs. Wise Compassion” (how to balance “that jerk!” with “what if you’re the jerk here?”), and Motivational Interviewing (advancing advice with questions). Or, if you haven’t, read Maybe You Should Talk To Someone – it’s brilliant.