The Downside of Advice-giving: Motivational Interviewing Part I


If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. 

If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” – unknown


When our loved ones experience problems, its only natural that we want to help resolve their troubles. Empathic sensitive people are smart and weve learned a lot. We want to help. One of our natural tendencies is to give people advice and tell them what to do. Therapists, parents, friends, supervisors, and teachers fall prey to this tendency.

What if giving advice isnt the most effective way to help people? What if it backfires? They ya-but you, procrastinate, and you both feel frustrated.

Dont get me wrong. Sometimes it is appropriate to give advice. If you go to a doctor, you expect solutions and information. Thats helpful. 

But even doctors get frustrated when patients dont follow their advice. Lifestyle healthcare professionals tell us to exercise at least 150 minutes a week. They tell us to drink half our weigh in ounces of water each day. If you weigh 140 pounds, you should drink 70 ounces of water a day. They tell us to stop eating sugar and get eight hours of sleep. But, do we do it?

Were all human. Sometimes we know what is good for us, but we dont follow through.

Sometimes, it helps to have a sounding board.

Click here to read Part 2 of Motivational Interviewing.

Lets consider some surprising negative aspects of advice-giving.

·      We unknowingly contribute to others dependency on us. When we catch their fish for them, they don’t learn how to fish for themselves. 

·      We don’t facilitate people’s ability to think for themselves. 

·      Advice-giving doesn’t teach them how to tune into their inner wisdom.

·      Unconsciously, we doubt that people have the ability to access inner wisdom and make good decisions. 

·      If we dig down deep and we’re willing to tell the truth, we might discover that we have an attitude of superiority. When we’re attached to others taking our advice, we cover up our hidden sense of not being good enough. We pump up our self-esteem by giving advice. 

·      We can tell we are unconsciously trying to feel good about ourselves by giving advice when:

1.   We get emotionally reactive when others don’t take our advice. We feel irritated, dismissed, and unappreciated. 

2.   We act in the following ways: 

a.   We continue giving advice, doing our best to persuade the person to change their behavior. The person keeps “yes-butting” us. Or, they agree with us, and then they don’t follow through on our suggestions. We grow more exasperated. 

b.   We emotionally distance ourselves, saying something like, “If you aren’t going to listen to me, I’ll just stop talking.”

c.   We get critical. “You’re so obstinate and stubborn. Why do I even bother?!”

d.   Distance grows in the relationship, which is the opposite of what we want.


There has to be a better way to help people, and research shows there is.

Thats where Motivational Interviewing (MI) comes in. Its a technique used by therapists, life coaches, and medical professionals to help people move from procrastination to action. It helps transform ambivalence into clarity. 

If you know someone who is struggling to make progress, you might want to try Motivational Interviewing with them. 

Here are some of the main tenets of Motivational Interviewing.

1.   The other person owns the problem. You are not responsible for solving their problem. You are a facilitator to help them discover their inner wisdom. This works with adults and children, too … more than you might think. 

2.   Your job is to listen to understand and to hold sacred space while they explore their thoughts, emotions, values, and options. 

3.   You are non-judgmental. You put your own agenda aside.

4.   You help them become more self-aware and self-responsible. 

5.   You help them choose solutions they want to adopt. 

6.   You are patient. If either of you feels rushed, schedule a date when you have enough time to complete this conversation. Or, you might want to schedule several sessions. 

7.   You keep your feelings, thoughts, and opinions to yourself. This process is not about you. It’s about them. 

8.   When people share their thoughts and feelings, you validate them and empathize, creating a safe emotional space for them to open up.

9.   If you get reactive, stop the process in a caring way. 

a.   Tell the person that you are not in a good space to facilitate them right then. Make a date to come back, or tell them you’re not the best person to help them. Help them find someone else, maybe a therapist. 

b.   Find ways to self-soothe and heal your emotionally reactive issues. Talk to a counselor or a wise friend. Journal. Pray. Mediate. Go for a walk in Nature, or use other therapeutic processes you’ve learned.


Because the other person is actively involved in the decision-making process in Motivational Interviewing, they are more likely to follow through with effective action. Often the first solution is not 100% effective. Thats OK. We learn by trial and error. 

Important: If you’re talking to a person with severe depression, anxiety, addiction, suicidal or homicidal thoughts, refer them to a professional counselor. If it’s difficult for them to ask for counseling, offer to go with them to their first session.

Citation: Motivational Interviewing (MI) was developed by William R. Miller. The purpose of motivational interviewing is to help a person actively participate in the change process by tuning into their intrinsic motivation. It helps people resolve ambivalence so they can more effectively make decisions and act on them. The five pillars of MI are autonomy, acceptance, adaptation, empathy, and evocation.

In Part 2 of Motivational Interviewing, you’ll learn practical skills to help your loved ones and co-workers make wiser decisions and become more self-aware and self-compassionate. 

If you would like to develop Motivational Interviewing skills, please join me for a complimentary Group Coaching event. You’ll meet like-minded Highly Sensitive Introverts, and we’ll have fun learning together.

Credit: Benita Esposito

Contact Information

I’m Benita A. Esposito, the author of the bestselling book, The Gifted Highly Sensitive Introvert available on Amazon. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor in Georgia and Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor in North Carolina, and a life coach and spiritual counselor for Highly Sensitive Introverts worldwide. To receive counseling and life coaching, please complete the questionnaire on the Contact Page. I’ll contact you Monday-Thursday, and we’ll get the ball rolling.


For a humorous example of when giving advice backfires, watch the youtube video, Its Not About the Nail.” 1:42 minutes.

Photo Credits:

Banner photo: Two Women Praying Ben White on Unsplash. Doctor-patient: National Cancer Institute on Unsplash. Black & WhiteMan: linkedin-sales-solutions-unsplash. Many hands: Shane Rounce on Unsplash.

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