You know what worked for me?
June 6, 2011 6:33 AM   Subscribe

Is this a form of giving advice?

I have a question I'd like to hear people's thoughts on. I have chronic pain, and so do a couple of my friends. I regularly experience or witness conversations that look sort of like this:

Me: I have been having a flare-up of my pain lately.

Other person: Dr. X cured my pain through acupuncture.


Friend with chronic health problem: I've been feeling very fatigued.

Other person: I have not experienced fatigue since giving up wheat.

In a common variation, the other person says, "You know what helped me with that? Giving up wheat."

So, here's my question: in a scenario like this, does the other person's comment constitute advice? Does the common variant make it more advice-like?

I ask because a few weeks ago I witnessed a conversation like this on Facebook in which a Friend with Chronic Health Problem explicitly said, "I'm not looking for advice," and got a couple of "X fixed me!" comments. My friend reiterated that she didn't want to hear advice, and the people who made the comments asserted that they were not in fact giving advice, just making conversation, and a little argument erupted. I was inclined to agree with my friend, but thought I might be wrong. So I have come here for a perception-check: AskMe folks, are comments like this, made in this specific context, a form of giving advice?
posted by not that girl to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
That is so thoroughly advice that I am at a loss for any other name for it.
posted by Etrigan at 6:34 AM on June 6, 2011 [9 favorites]

It's called advice.

And also called: people-like-to-talk-about-themselves-and-not-actually-hear-you-where-you-are-at-way-too-often-and-because-they-are-not-actually-listening-to-you-they-do-not-give-you-what-you-are-asking-for-and-instead-try-to-fix-you-when-all-you-want-is-to-be-heard.
posted by anya32 at 6:40 AM on June 6, 2011 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I think it's both advice AND personal sharing to create a bond. Personally I try to take it in good spirit, because I think mostly people are just trying to say, "I also had your bad experience, but it got better, I know it'll get better for you too," (and naturally give the WAY it got better for them) but it sure FEELS like unwanted advice.

When I had morning sickness if one more person said to me, "Know what worked for me? Peppermint!" I felt like I was going to punch someone. Or barf on them. But they were really just trying to be conversational. So I just smiled and nodded.

I think we all say a lot of dumb things when just trying to make conversation, since it's all extemporaneous.

(So, yes, I think your friend is right, it IS advice, but I'm not sure it was meant on purpose, if you know what I mean.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:40 AM on June 6, 2011 [14 favorites]

It's the type of advice where people are driven to talk about something that they feel makes them special, much to the annoyance of everyone else. It's not surprising that it comes in the form of "anecdotal nonsense masquerading as medical advice", because the sort of advice that annoys people like your friend tends to be strictly amateur hour material and more about seeking validation or one's own choice then anything else.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:40 AM on June 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

I don’t know how this has happened (or perhaps it has always been like this), but for a lot of people their unique anecdotal experience = medical advice and even science. To be honest, lookup 90% of the health-related askmeta questions in here and one if not several people will hop on with fish oil, wheat, etc., cured the problem.

I’ve watched this long enough (although now this anecdotal, he) to believe that the people offering the advice really, truly believe it is helpful and useful and are therefore sharing their tips. If I were in your friend’s shoes, I would either 1) ignore it and think that the other people were trying to help, or 2) point to randomized controlled trials, etc. Unfortunately they probably will not be open to hearing it then or ever.

For whatever reason, this part of science has been lost in our society. It extends beyond just medical advice. I wish biology 101 in college courses would discuss this a bit more critically. Or perhaps we should all give up wheat, dunk ourselves in oil, and be happy.

posted by Wolfster at 6:49 AM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you say, "I have a problem" there is a subset of people to whom you might say this who feel the need to help you or try to fix the situation. Being a fixer is a common affliction. People don't mean anything by it, and they are in fact engaging in the behavior Eyebrows McGee describes.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:50 AM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

When you share something about yourself, you need to be prepared to hear people talk about common experiences they've had. Think about it this way:
You: I have been having a flare-up of my pain lately.

Other person: Ugh, I also have pain and even Dr. X didn't help it.
I hope we can agree that doesn't constitute advice. It's conversation. So what is the person supposed to do if Dr. X did actually help them? Say nothing at all? Talk about a movie they saw recently? Poke you so you know they care but don't say anything at all?

If you really don't want people to talk about any positive helpful experiences they've had, you would need to say something more explicit, such as "I don't want any advice, and just to be safe please don't mention anything positive or helpful that has happened to you. I just want people to let me know that they're sorry I'm having this experience."

I'm not sure how that would come across. The alternative is just to let people talk and try not to let it get to you.
posted by alms at 6:50 AM on June 6, 2011 [17 favorites]

It is advice, but it's pretty silly to moan about your aches and pains on facebook and expect people to not give you advice. The facebook poster is seeking attention, and the commenters are giving it in their own way.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 6:51 AM on June 6, 2011 [15 favorites]

I would probably agree with our friend. It does seem pretty advise-y.


advice (usually uncountable; plural advices)

1. An opinion recommended or offered, as worthy to be followed; counsel.

2. (obsolete) Deliberate consideration; knowledge.

So yeah, "Information given worthy of being followed" which is what it seems to be. But as should be said - they were probably only trying to help out a mate :)
posted by Cogentesque at 6:55 AM on June 6, 2011

I'm not sure I would use the word "advice" to describe it, but it's usually well-meaning trying-to-helpitude, whether they consciously realize it or not (usually they don't). I suppose it's a combination of advice and conversation, commiseration, and well-wishing. It's something that probably should be taken in the spirit that it was given, because even if it's not what you were looking for, it's meant well.
posted by Gator at 6:55 AM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

leaving aside the question of the quality of advice offered ("I found aromatherapy really sped my healing after I broke my arm"), I think it's about people's thought process being "why did you tell me about your problem if you didn't want help fixing it"... it's a reasonable response, for many people, when someone tells them about a problem... but,

See, if I'm thirsty, I don't want a glass of water. I want you to sympathize. I want you to say ''Gloria. I, too, know what it feels like to be thirsty. I, too, have had a dry mouth.'' I want you to connect with me through sharing and understanding the concept of dry mouthedness.
posted by russm at 6:56 AM on June 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

What does she want, this?

Me: I have been having a flare-up of my pain lately.
Other person: OMG I'm so sorry!
Other person: That sux!
---2 other people "like" this
Other person: Boo! Pain is nasty!
---3 other people "like" this
[Echo chamber ad nauseum]

Your friend can't put something out on Facebook that in polite conversational society demands at least some kind of response and then exact the demand that people do so in only the way she wants. She's standing on a platform with a megaphone and is essentially saying the exact same thing in the same tone to a bunch of very different people who are different levels of friendship and closeness, regardless of their mindset or how they listen. She can't then expect that everyone is going to respond to her in the most personal and appropriate way. Leaving aside the silliness of most layperson health advice (didn't we have a conversation on Ask recently about how wearing a brown rock around your neck gets babies off the hook for teething pain?!), people get different utility out of social media and feel a certain minimal obligation to contribute their own utility. I expect some people feel like putting something out there should be at least a little "informative" or "helpful," or why bother?

If she's having a one-on-one conversation with a friend who doesn't get the tone of the interaction or your friend's reaction, that's different.
posted by sestaaak at 7:11 AM on June 6, 2011 [9 favorites]

Yep, it's advice, as well as "Ooh! We have a thing in common! An opportunity for me to talk about my experience!" It's also the kind of thing that the adviser will defend as "just sayin'." (See also "No offense" and "I'm not racist, but...")

Offering advice is a near-universal reaction to hearing complaints, even if the complainer specifically says they're not looking for advice. And a lot of people interpret posts on Facebook as "hey, everyone, talk to me about this thing!" Sometimes you have to go to specific people or forums that you know will understand you're just venting.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:12 AM on June 6, 2011

I actually don't think it's advice. Advice would be "I had that same thing, and Dr. X helped me so much! YOU SHOULD GO SEE HIM!"

I had that same thing, and Dr. X helped me so much = sharing, making conversation

YMMV, apparently!
posted by pupstocks at 7:17 AM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

You know what helped me with getting annoyed by advice? Realizing that throwing your problems onto a group of people and then having them think about solutions for your problems, is some kind of marvelous social adaptation that we couldn't even begin to have a society without.

Also, there's that little 'x' on people's responses in FB if she wants to remove the advice and keep the sympathy.
posted by mittens at 7:23 AM on June 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

It's really hard to hear someone you care about say, "I am experiencing that painful thing you experienced, and it sucks," and not respond, "I experienced that painful thing, and XYZ solution made it better." I don't think I'd quite call it advice--or, maybe it is advice but I don't think of it as inappropriate advice-giving, particularly if there's an existing friendship. To me, as long as it's more about saying, "I sympathize, I know it sucks" than it is about pushing the solution that worked for you, it's appropriate:

A: "I am experiencing X."
B: "I experienced X, and Y made it so much better for me."
A: "Hmm... I don't think that'll work for me."
--this, to me, is appropriate, acceptable, respectful conversation between friends--

B: "No, really, you should try Y. It'll help you."
--this is where it crosses over into inappropriate advice-giving---
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:32 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a chronic illness and I know exactly what you mean and it's incredibly frustrating.

Here's the thing: if someone posts on Facebook that they're feeling fine, we don't look at that as a problem to solve. "Hey, FBFriend is only feeling fine! I must explain to them how to feel fabulous!" So if not that girl and friends post about how they feel, why is that a problem for people to solve and give advice about?

And it is advice, no matter what the people who give it think. I've also seen it referred to as Cure Evangelism, and I think part of what makes it so frustrating is that there's often a tone of "you're doing your health issue wrong" which is INCREDIBLY dismissive.

Not that girl, you didn't ask for advice on dealing with this kind of advice advice, but my trick has been to post lots of things like this Top Ten Worst Suggestions to People With Chronic Illness list and The Spoon Theory to Facebook.
posted by camyram at 7:41 AM on June 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

This is the basis of most answers in askme now. It is anecdata at best.
posted by TheBones at 7:42 AM on June 6, 2011

It's not "giving advice" as in "telling the person what they should do."

It's friendly sympathy, conversation, and offering possible hope, to be read as: "I feel your pain, yeah, that sucks. And hey, in case it's helpful, I'll share that what benefited me was ---. Discuss."

Sure, it can cross the line into insistent advice, see Meg_Murray's example above.
posted by desuetude at 7:45 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

(Oh, and it can also be pretty tone-deaf.)
posted by desuetude at 7:46 AM on June 6, 2011

Whenever I just want to vent about something, I precede my complaints/stories/rages with the statement "I just want to vent about something". Optional addendum: "Just listen and make sympathetic noises". Seems to work.
posted by likeso at 8:04 AM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think when people say "no advice", what they mean is, "I'd like some highly effective empathy". What they usually settle for is "moderately effective empathy".

Moderately effective empathy is: I'm so sorry this is happening to you.

-I'm so sorry this is happening to you!
-That sucks!
-You're in my thoughts and prayers

Highly effective empathy is: I'm so sorry this is happening to you, paired with a, tell me more about you, with a side of, I'm going to take some extra steps to show you some love!

-I'm so sorry this is happening to you! How long has it been going on?
-That sucks! Can they figure out what is causing it?
-You're in my thoughts and prayers! I'm bringing you an "I love you" apple pie tonight!

Paired with a:
-sending an ecard or funny cartoon to make you laugh
-sending food, like a favorite apple pie
-coming over to see you
-taking you out to the movie to cheer you up.

I think it's hard for people to do empathy well, so they short hand it with a "vitamin C worked for me!", regardless of whether or not they actually say or mean "and you should take it too!". I also think people would be fine with the "Vitamin c worked for me!", and perhaps not even hear it as advice, if it was paired with the rest of the highly effective empathy actions. But people are busy, and they don't.

So is it advice? Eh, I suppose if a person doesn't explicitly say "I took vitamin C and you should too!" or "Have you tried vitamin C?", technically, it's a semantics thing, but no, it's not advice, because the person is weakly commiseration by sharing their own experience, rather that specifically saying that you should do the same.

But is is damn annoying. And it's happening because many of us just don't feel we have the time or resiliency to handle something unpleasant happening to someone we care about, and we don't know what to do, or *how* to be highly empathetic. But when we are graced with a friend or family member who does function this way, and we are in some distress, we are deeply grateful.

But your friend is short handing it too, by saying "X is happening to me, please, no advice." Because that's negative feedback - it's trying to get what they do want by eliminating what they don't want. That only works in sculpture. Perhaps they could say what they do want. "Fuck this seven weeks of leg pain! I'm putting a call out to the universe in search of sweet sympathy, offers to take me out for pie, and visits! Bring it, people! Show me some love!" I the whole ask/guess culture wars, I think sometimes it might help to be clearer about how people can help you. People who love your friend will at least make an effort to try to do just that.
posted by anitanita at 8:17 AM on June 6, 2011 [26 favorites]

I've been through a similar situation, as my husband has had chronic back pain for over two years.

I can't count the number of people who have pointed us to Sarno's book. Like my MIL who sent us the damn book. Um, sorry, but bad discs and spinal stenosis aren't due to repressed anger!
posted by luckynerd at 10:21 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The Facebook thing was just an example; as a person with chronic pain (and years ago as a pregnant woman with all-day "morning sickness" for seven months) I've experience many of these kinds of conversations face-to-face as well. I didn't mean it to be a "how to handle things on Facebook" question.

This is helpful, though. I like Eyebrows McGee's both/and answer--it is both advice and an attempt to connect through sharing stories, because that feels very true to my experience (even when being connected with through stories in that particular way can feel irritating).
posted by not that girl at 10:51 AM on June 6, 2011

I've found that I've often had to respond to,

-"Hey, have you tried B-12? It worked for me, or I just read about it, etc." with:

-"I've found it most helpful and supportive when people have just listened to me and tried to understand how this feels for me. Some of the things I've appreciated the most are friends have sent me flowers, or just offered to help out, or just asked me what the pain feels like for me. I'm not sure why, but that just helps the most."

.....aaaaannnnd smile.

-"But you've tried the B-12, right?"

-"yep. And still not as helpful as Bob just offering to take me out for some beers."

......aaaaaannnnd smile.

-"How odd. B-12 worked for me."

-"I'm glad to hear that. For me the worst is feeling like X. But even with this, I've found I've just had to take it day by day. It's been really great having people just listen. Thanks for doing that. I've got to go, co-worker Joan. hope your day is lovely."

.....aaannnnd smile.

.....annnndddd scene.
posted by anitanita at 2:06 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Obviously it's advice. Obviously, technically, it is nothing more than people sharing related stories about themselves.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:43 PM on June 6, 2011

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