December 10, 2012

A not so well-known downside of advice giving

I think the effectiveness of giving advice is, in general, overrated. Even when advice sounds reasonable and useful, people may still be reluctant to act upon it. In this post I argue that solutions which are self-found and based on one's own previous experience have a better change of being accepted and used.

Now I came across evidence which suggests that advice may also be not so beneficial for the person giving it: Advising someone to act in a certain way may make it less likely that you yourself will act in that way.

Quite surprising. But it does provide an explanation for a the situation of a doctor I once knew well was in. He seemed to do everything doctors are supposed to advice their patients to stay away from (heavy smoking, eating, drinking, not exercising, etc.). 


  1. this was a very successful appetizer. I hope to read the article one day :-)

    But it makes me guess why an advisor (myself) would be at risk not to follow my own advice: Differentiating myself from the "problem-client" - I could be subconsciously tempted not wanting to do the same thing as the client? Could needing myself what I suggested to my client take away the feeling of being superior in status and therefore legitimate in the role of the paid consultant?
    Now if my approach towards a client is from heart to heart, same status and perceiving him/her as expert in his/her solutionfinding I might be less at risk to sabotage my own good ideas if I offer them in a context of suggestions (=indirect advices) where appropriate e.g. in a brainstorm process - what do you think?

    Cheers, Andre Perth/West Australia

  2. Hi Andre, Thanks for your response. I hope to be able to post more information about this research soon.

  3. Coert,

    It would be interesting to see the data on this. There is research that when it comes to self-defining goals (i.e. being a good friend, becoming a lawyer) that asserting the goal publicly or surrounding oneself with symbols of the goal, can reduce motivation. So if the goal-related advice was related to a self-defining goal of the advice giver this would make sense.

    However, research on self-persuasion shows that when people advise others they are often influenced by the advice they give. By attempting to persuade others, they end up persuading themselves. One early study of this phenomenon had to do with getting American housewives to cook more organ meats during WWII. Giving them information, recipes and persuasive presentations did not help much. But when they got women together in groups to discuss how to convince other women to cook more organ meats, those women ended up much more likely to serve organ meats to their families.

  4. Hi Rodney, I was promised by the lead researcher to be notified when the research would be published but I have heard nothing from them since.


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