Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Here’s what I think you should do …
How often have you heard that one? Usually it's from a family member or a friend who has your best interest at heart. Just hearing those words alone may put you on alert for what might be following.
And then, whether you seem to be interested or not, the advice comes your way: “Start eating more.” “Get an appointment with this specialist.” “Tell your doctor to …”
Some of the advice may be useful; some of it may not be so useful. But there it is. And your advice-giver may be pretty insistent that you follow up.
Maybe you asked for advice from someone you thought might have some expertise or experience that you could benefit from. But the advice you got didn’t sound right, or you knew as soon as you heard it that it was just plain wrong.
So what do you do about advice that’s not so useful, if not downright bad? Or, advice that seems suspect? Or advice that you followed, but with negative consequences?
Chances are, sooner or later, the advice-giver may be expecting a report on how it worked for you. So do you want to simply tell them flat out that they are totally off the wall? Or do you want to give it some time and hope they forget?
Here are some ideas for handling bad advice, before you take it, or after the fact:
Consider the source. Is this someone who has given you advice in the past? If so, was it helpful? Is it someone you know is concerned but, bless their heart, has no idea what they are talking about other than what they may have picked up on the Internet? In most situations, you know how credible the advice is before it even comes out of their mouth.
Be aware of your feelings. Having someone give us advice can bring up a lot of feelings. Like resentment at being thought of as someone who needs to be helped. Nobody likes to be treated as if they were needy, or helpless. On the other hand, if the advice is coming from someone you know has your absolute best interest at heart, you might be prone to doing what they advise as a way of showing your love. So take a step back and consider whether your feelings are getting in the way of objectively evaluating the advice. You’re not obligated to take advice that doesn’t make sense to you.
Also be aware of how your advice-giver is feeling. People who care about you may feel like they need to try to “fix” you in some way. As a result, they may latch on to anything and everything they think might make you feel better. Including bad advice they picked up on the Internet or from a friend. That doesn’t mean you should take their advice, but know it comes from their own feelings of helplessness. Another reason to be kind.
Understand your resistance. Is the advice “bad” because any advice feels bad? Or because the advice is bad on its own merits? The question here is: Is my own resistance to being told what to do getting in the way of giving this advice the benefit of the doubt? Sometimes advice is on target, but we don’t want to hear it. Like being told you have an unhealthy diet. Just a double check before you reject advice out of hand.
Listen to your instincts. If you’ve been living with a chronic condition, you probably have a strong sense of when the advice someone is giving you has credibility. And you know your own body, what makes you feel good and what makes you feel bad. As the expression goes, give it the “smell test” and listen to your gut.
Do your own research. The advice you received may sound great, and come from someone you respect. However, it never hurts to check out other reliable resources before you move forward. Including your doctor. One of the ways to protect yourself from bad advice is to conduct research on your own. Take responsibility for getting the facts before you decide to move forward on the advice of even the most credible friend or family member.
Be clear about your intentions. If you don’t want any advice, you can let the other person know in a way that doesn’t need to have a negative impact on your relationship. You can say something like: “I have thought about that, but it’s not the direction I want to move in.” Or, “I had a bad experience, so I know it’s not right for me.” Or, “My doctor and I have a plan in place that I’m pretty satisfied with.”
Be gentle but firm. Follow up with a simple: “But thanks a lot. I appreciate your concern.” The giver of bad advice may need to be gently reminded more than once before they finally get the idea that you aren’t looking for advice. If you aren’t clear about your intentions the moment you receive advice, you may leave the advice-giver with the impression that you are going to follow up. That can lead to a more uncomfortable conversation further down the road.
And if you took some bad advice … You can be honest about the results without criticizing the other person’s motives. “I did take your advice and it wasn’t right for me.” You can give them the details or you can leave it at that. Followed by that gentle but firm, “I appreciate your concern.”
You’re in control of your own health. The advice-givers may mean well, but bad advice is bad advice. Follow your instincts. Do your research. Make decisions that are in your own best interest. Take good care of yourself!