5 Signs You’re Getting Terrible Advice—Even From Someone You Love

Photo: Getty Images/Tom Werner
When I find myself in a dilemma or uncertain of how to handle a situation, like many of us, I reach out to others for advice. Depending on the specifics of my situation, I may consult friends, family, colleagues, my own therapist (I'm a therapist, and yes, I also see a therapist!), mentors, or doctors. The tricky part is knowing whom to trust for advice with a given set of circumstances. While my mom is who I turn to for advice about one of my kids’ latest developmental hiccups or how long I can keep a chicken in the fridge before I need to roast it, it’s my older brother who I call when I need financial advice. And while my one friend is great for book or vacation recommendations, she might not be the right friend to talk to about a recent conflict with my husband. But how do we make these decisions about whom to consult for what, and, more crucially, what are the signs of bad advice that's not smart to take?

As a psychotherapist, when patients ask me for advice, I work with them to dig a bit deeper, hone their intuition, reflect on past patterns, and align themselves with future goals to help guide them in making their own decisions. But when you find yourself in a situation that is super confusing and has you swept up in big emotions—those times when you can’t see the forest for the trees—you may feel the need to call in others to provide their own opinions. In those situations, there are some key signs of bad advice that may signal you should ask for another opinion (or even trust your own gut).

5 signs of bad advice that may signal you to get another opinion

1. You don't trust the person

Ask yourself, “do I trust that they get me and where I am coming from?” If you think someone is out of touch with your life experience, and you don't personally trust them, they may not be the best person to offer you advice. Also, if you sense that they're basically telling you what you want to hear rather than what they earnestly believe, that's also a sign you might want to ask someone else for advice.

2. You don't have shared values with this person about the situation at hand

While we strive to be non-judgmental in our relationships, that can be hard in actually. So if you, for example, are looking for marital advice, you might pause before consulting a pal who doesn’t believe in marriage. Or, if you are invested in being a freelance worker, perhaps you wouldn't seek the advice of a mentor who consistently prizes working for decades in an established company because it offers a pension.

In either of these situations, the people aren't necessarily wrong in their beliefs or perspectives, but they don't share the same foundational goals as you, and that is a sign they would potentially offer bad advice (even if unintentionally).

3. They have expectations you'll follow their advice

In other words, the person you talk to might take it personally if you don’t follow their advice. The last thing you want is to feel pressured to conform to someone else’s opinion as you are sorting through a complicated situation that directly impacts you. Most decisions aren’t black and white, so make sure whomever you ask for advice is comfortable sitting in the gray with you and supports you, no matter what you decide to do.

4. They have a history of poor decision-making themselves

Is this someone whose life choices you respect? Do you admire the way they have navigated their similar situation? If not, then ask yourself why you think they would be an appropriate candidate for advising you. If their advice often results in deepening conflict or it simply falls flat, that's a sign they may offer bad advice (again, even if not intentionally). In this case, consider another source.

5. The person’s advice doesn't resonate with you

Check in with yourself about whether their advice brings clarity or feels like the right thing to do (even if it is hard to hear). Ultimately, you will be the one responsible for the choices you make. So, if your friend says, “Yes, go ahead and take that trip with your ex because it will be fun, and who cares!?!” but after sitting with it, your gut says, “No! It will only be another round of the same old, same old,” listen to your gut.

It is hard to make big decisions and to get clear about what steps we need to take to navigate a complicated situation. I always encourage practicing self-compassion in these moments, even if the decisions we make aren't "perfect." So often, we learn about ourselves when we do something we wish we did different. Leaning on people we trust for support and asking for advice are ways to help us muddle through and feel less alone in our decisions—so long as the advice we're getting is solid, that is.

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