top of page

How Giving Advice Could Be Fueling Dependency and Burnout

“Can I ask you for advice?” is a common question that typically is an honor to be asked. You feel needed, and a wave of worthiness washes through as you perk up and anxiously wait for the topic to be disclosed. There is nothing wrong with refusing such a request, but refusal isn't the common response simply because this particular question tends to stroke the ego, elevate bonding, and ignite curiosity. You probably don’t want to disappoint or reject the vulnerability involved in the task, either. The "pleaser" in you wants to fix, solve, and identify a solution to alleviate this person from potential distress, confusion, or pain.

Little did you know that you are now at a crossroads, and your response is critical. It will dictate the flow of the conversation and your role. Do you dive right in to give advice and acquire emotional "stock" in the situation, which could move you into taking false ownership, internalizing, or fueling a dependency? Or do you resist the urge and attempt to create the space necessary for this individual to maintain ownership of the situation and encourage her to process and gain self-awareness?


Your first task as the listener is to validate. This may require you to tame a judgment that was triggered by what you just heard or refrain from telling him what he should do. The first step is only to acknowledge that you understood the message and emotion that she is trying to communicate. This perhaps comes in the form of a nod, a smile, or eye contact. This could include a clarifying question or simply paraphrasing what you just heard. Respond with curiosity and maintain presence.

Validation comes in many forms, but the common component is simple: It creates space and integrates a boundary from the start that prevents you from the pressure to fix and soak up others’ emotions as you interact. The "fixer" will wait for a pause and use this as an opportunity to jump in and relate or share a solution. Don’t fear the pause! View it as a moment for reflection or to disclose more information.

Emotional shifts tend to occur during pauses. Remember, it's not about you. This is not an invitation to fix or defuse. It’s confirmation that you have had a successful role in cultivating a space that is psychologically safe for someone to be vulnerable and go one step deeper with a thought or emotion. A comforting or soothing facial expression might be appropriate during this time, and, many times, this is enough and all that is needed to encourage more sharing or reflecting.

Validation differs from affirmation and can be effectively executed even when you don’t particularly connect well with someone or share similar views or values. Affirming someone demonstrates that you agree with them and tends to involve an attempt to bond. I can be something like, “Well, you know how to execute, so don’t sweat the meeting tomorrow.” It’s a wonderful tactic that aims to build someone up and squash their inner critic, but it can, at times, appear dismissive and hurry the conversation along. Validation can be affirming, but the goal is different and it requires a unique skill set. It involves patience and aims to help someone feel truly heard and understood.

Asking Questions

The ultimate goal of an effective listener or supporter is to create space and ask questions that encourage the person to process, gain self-awareness, and get a few of their own 'reps' in. Rather than immediately sharing your two cents or giving direct advice, start by asking questions:

  • What can you control?

  • What are your options?

  • What can you let go of or surrender?

  • What have you tried in the past?

  • What would it look like if you...?

  • What do you need?

  • What is your next step?

  • What can I do to support you?

This will positively challenge them and provide them with an opportunity to balance their emotion with logic. It's an empowering practice that effective clinicians, coaches, leaders, teachers, and parents live by to empower those around them. Aim to support, not solve. It will not only help you keep your boundaries in check but also prevent you from experiencing burnout and compassion fatigue and fueling dependent relationships.

3 views0 comments
bottom of page