Tell me if this sounds familiar. A close friend or relative is complaining about an obstacle that they have in life: problems at work, spousal frustrations, backstabbing friends, etc. You listen attentively and politely. You offer productive and easy-to-follow advice. You friend looks at you like you have overstepped some boundaries. They either tell you that your advice wouldn't work and launch into more complaining or they are downright offended that you offered unwelcome advice. And no one ever follows your advice. Ever.
Many years ago, I decided that most people aren't really asking for advice, they are asking for you to sit there in rapt attention while they bitch. You fare better as a friend by occasionally muttering "That sucks" or - even better - "So what are you going to do?"
I have found the answer to giving advice. I call it "Anti-Advice" and I've had a lot of success with it. It goes along the same principle of homeopathic medicine. You don't try to cure the problem, you intensify the symptoms so that the body naturally solves the problem.
Here's an example: Your single friend is complaining about having gained weight recently and claims that it's too hard to lose weight. Here are some responses:
Who wants to lose weight anyway? It's a lot of work with little reward. Let's go for ice cream. So what if you've been gaining a lot of weight recently. It's a great excuse to buy more clothes! You look great. Would Kevin James be as popular if he were thin? You're like the Kevin James of [insert person's town or neighborhood].
The key to anti-advice is that you have to really go for it. You can't get caught being disingenuous. Your voice can't be dripping with sarcasm or it doesn't work. Put a smile on your face and confirm their deepest anxieties.
I've found myself liberated from my don't-say-anything approach to complaint sessions. I now politely listen to the complaints and search for the one thing they don't want to hear. When it works well, the complainer is completely stymied. It also frees you from expecting some sort of positive outcome. In order to give anti-advice, you have to divest yourself of an expectation that things are going to change. In fact, you become an advocate of things never changing.
Here are some more examples:
Your boss at work is unable to make decisions and commit to a direction. You have to constantly remind your boss that the wrong decision could have gargantuan ramifications.
A friend finds themselves sexually attracted to their roommates new boyfriend/girlfriend. How about they try to orchestrate a three-way with the roommate and love interest?
A friend is procrastinating and obsessing about how much work they have to get done. Tell them to blow off work and go to the movies. If they refuse but continue to procrastinate, start reading favorable reviews of movies currently playing.
Most of the time, people react so strongly to anti-advice that the subject is dropped. They may actually take steps to fix the problem. Or they realize that you are not mentally balanced enough to be a source of any advice.
One point of warning: anti-advice doesn't work on children or pets. The target person has to have some sort of super-ego in place for this to work.
I probably wouldn't recommend trying it on the criminally insane either - but who am I to try to tell people what to do? After all, the population could stand to be thinned out a bit.