Bioethics Blogs

If I were you then I wouldn’t say that: The perils of giving and taking advice

Written by Andreas Kappes

The school year just started, but surprisingly, the half-term break is already lurking around the corner, when children have a week off. For a lot of parents this implies seeing their own parents, having them take care of the kids. And whenever families come together, there will be many sentences starting with: If I were you… Adult children don’t hesitate to give unsolicited advice on, for instance, the outfit choices of their partners (“If I were you I would only wear this at midnight, when it is dark and nobody can see you”), parents give advice to their own parents (“If I were you, I would take it slow), and grandparents can’t resist either (“If I were you, I would buy a house and stop renting”). Even outside the family, unsolicited advice is everywhere1. Obama telling the United Kingdom how much money to spend on the military, David Cameron advising Europe on how to handle immigration, or this blog post suggesting ways to offer advice; it is readily available. And all of these different forms of advice – hopefully with one obvious exception – have one thing in common; they backfire. While people love to dish out advice and it seems to them to be a good idea, we are not great in taking it; we rather hate it. So how to give it right?

Let’s backpedal for a second and consider why advice is a good thing in general, and why we should consider giving advice. There is an abundance of research showing that having multiple opinions to draw from when forming judgments is almost always superior to just having your own opinion (1).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.