It is innate for people to have an opinion on almost everything, but not all opinions should be shared. In some cases, people offer pieces of often unwarranted advice without empathy or consideration of the whole story. This leads to causing more harm to those receiving the feedback.
Providing advice and feedback often comes with good intentions. But to make advice effective and helpful, it should also be delivered with consideration to factors like its relevance in certain situations and the position and qualification of those that are providing it.
It can sometimes take some effort. However, if delivered carelessly and not given at the right time and tone, it can offend people and worsen the situation.
When and why does feedback do more harm?
Overlooking Point of View
No two stories will ever be identical. A person’s circumstances will not always be the same as others, even if they appear to be in a similar situation.
For example, a man who lost his shoe because his house burned down will not feel the same way as a man who lost his shoe because he threw it away. They both lost their shoes, but they have different stories, which can cause a variety of feelings, emotions, and responses. They have dissimilar points of view, hence they cannot provide objective feedback or advice to one another, especially if they are unaware of what each has experienced.
People will find it difficult to stay 100 percent rational. People often give feedback and advice based on their own lives, without ever going through the same experiences. Their experience is their limitation as to how far they can understand others.
It is natural for a person to think of similar experiences when they hear the other’s struggle, in their aim to create a connection. People try to relate to the experience, but sometimes, they fail to recognize the fact that everyone experiences things differently. There will be differences in point of view, resources, and one’s internal capacity to deal with a similar situation. Hence, it leads to insensitive remarks and unhelpful advice. In some cases, it leads to just downplaying or invalidating the struggles and problems of the receiver.
Unsolicited Advice and Feedback
Very often, people feel stressed or disturbed by others’ pain or problem when someone’s sharing it with them. Then there is this instinct of needing to provide feedback or advice, but this is not always what is truly needed. The lack of sensitivity concerning your environment and the receiver’s current situations and emotions can easily make you feel like it is okay to throw unsolicited advice at them.
Some justify this by saying that “they just want to help”, and are providing constructive criticism to others, without knowing the differences between constructive criticism and harmful comments. Constructive criticism means you are coming from an objective place and are providing suggestions that aim to help in the improvement of the subject. In contrast, when you are suggesting ideas aimed at making the situation better for you, rather than the person you are talking to, you are just making unsolicited comments. These may come from your emotions and personal perspective and could be harmful to those who will receive them.
Forgetting to Listen
People often forget the importance of being heard. Listening is powerful—you can get to know what someone needs if you can just sit with them and hear them out. People dealing with problems like addiction or mental illness find it difficult to speak about their struggles. Rejecting feedback can also be difficult because when sharing a problem, people often feel vulnerable.
Most receivers of feedback, even unsolicited, will just agree or thank the people providing it. They might not be able to process this, but at some point, it can add pressure to them too.
There is no exact way to know if your feedback will be gladly received and will be effective, or if it will hurt someone. It is important to be mindful of the feedback and comments you offer to people, especially those who are dealing with serious conditions. Listen first before speaking. This way you can provide better, more effective feedback or response. Sometimes, rather than advice, people need is for someone to listen to them. Just be there and remind them that they are not alone, that they can trust you, and that it is okay to get help.
Listening to Professionals
Even though you are close to someone, and you wish them well, you cannot guarantee to be 100 percent rational and objective. There will be instances when you will offer feedback mainly because of what you feel about what they are doing. Despite your pure intentions, it will not always be helpful or comforting, but can rather aggravate the situation or their condition. This especially happens if you do not fully understand what someone is going through.
It is important to take note that the best advice people suffering from something can get is from a professional who knows their condition. People with aching teeth need to see a dentist; people suffering from mental conditions must seek first-hand advice from psychologists and treatment centers. They are the best people to offer feedback with no personal touch.
How to Provide Feedback That Helps?
When someone’s dealing with very serious problems, going through difficult times or suffering from mental illnesses and conditions, including depression or addiction, feedback and advice will seem like the least helpful thing you can give. Providing an intervention, or a planned process to help them get through step-by-step can be a more effective approach to assist them. However, if advice is all you can offer for now, here are a few approaches you can consider when giving feedback to a friend or family who might need it:
- Talk to them calmly in a quiet and neutral place
- Express your intentions of offering help and advice
- Understand, validate, and help them realize what they are feeling or experiencing
- Help them find motivation to go through what they are experiencing and recover
- Do not force them into following your advice
- Prepare yourself for a variety of reactions. They may disagree or not be able to easily process what you say, which is something you should not take offense to.
- Encourage them to seek professional help
Not Everyone Needs Advice
It is human to feel like you need to say something when you see someone going through something. But before doing so, it is important to do an introspection and see where you are coming from and compare it to where that person is coming from. You want to help, but what kind of help do they really need?
If you feel like you are in the right place to offer friendly and empathetic advice, offer it to them with all your personal biases removed. If possible, point them to the right professionals who can offer the right advice and care. Put your feet in their shoes, and not the other way around. Or, better yet, rest in the knowledge that not everyone needs advice. Just let them know that you are there and they can rely on you. That, within itself, can make a more significant impact than any feedback or advice.