In my last blog I wrote about the best way to seek advice. Today I want to look on the best way how to give advice in a way that genuinely helps people.
Don’t Give Unsolicited Advice
We’ve all been on the end of unsolicited advice and know how annoying and intrusive it is to be lectured by someone who considers themselves an expert. So the golden rule of advice giving, is make sure your advice is wanted, don’t just plough in. Buddha said, “If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind”. Before you give advice I suggest asking the person straight out if they want your advice. Perhaps say something like, “Are you interested in hearing my ideas on how to approach this?”
Expect to be Rejected
If the person is receptive to your advice, remember also that it is unlikely the individual will act on your advice. Sociologist Leigh Plunckett studied advice giving and found that people in positions of authority dismiss two-thirds of advice given to them. People not in positions of power dismiss about half the advice that comes their way. Another study carried out by the Harvard Business School found that most people are bad at distinguishing good advice from bad advice. We tend to act on the advice of people who present themselves as confident and knowledgeable – even if their advice is wildly off the mark. And we are also reluctant to accept advice from people, who we perceive as different or unconventional. The best advice usually comes from people with different perspectives from our own, as I outlined in my last blog. They can see flaws in our logic and identify new and innovative solutions, but people tend to shy away from anything that is new and creative. But just be aware that whatever advice you give, it is likely to be discarded. Consequently do not feel hurt or offended if your good advice is rejected.
Know the Difference Between Venting and Advice Seeking
Next, you might want to consider that if someone comes to you on the premise of seeking advice, they may actually be seeking the opportunity to ‘vent’. There could be a problem stuck in their head causing them distress and just talking about it helps. The person might have already gone to a number of friends on the premise of seeking advice, but instead he or she just wants to talk it out. I suggest you listen and tell them that you are hearing them and also offer sympathy. John Gray in his book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus argued that men only talk about their problems if they are seeking solutions, but women are more likely to tell their husband or friends about a problem because they want to vent their feelings and are in need of sympathy not practical solutions. Dr Gray argued that men and women come into conflict because men will cut off their wives, who are in the middle of ‘talking it out’ and offer practical solutions, but the wives really want emotional support more than practical solutions. Before you start offering advice make sure the person has finished venting or ‘talking it out’.
Understand the Problem Fully
Another mistake advice givers make is failing to properly understand the problem. Dr Edgar Schein from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said advice givers way in prematurely because they think they see similarities with challenges they’re faced. Also the advice giver does not realise that the advice seeker will often present a biased or incomplete picture of the problem. A good advice giver is a detective who will ask probing questions about the problem and gather as much information as possible before speaking. Dr Schein says that sometimes the advice giver is reluctant to ask basic or probing questions because they don’t want to appear stupid. They want to be the wise expert. Before giving any advice consider that you may be hearing a biased account and ask multiple questions. If the problem is a conflict between two people, keep in mind that the other person involved may see the situation in a totally different light. Consider even tactfully asking the advice seeker how the other party is feeling.
Don’t Be Judgemental
When giving advice do not be judgemental. It is not helpful to tell the advice seeker that they should never have done something. Remember, you can’t undo the past. Remember that the advice seeker may be feeling vulnerable and upset. It is also okay to say you don’t have all the solutions, but you are there to listen and help in whatever way you can. Also be careful not to give advice that is self-centred. Don’t say, “If I was you I would …” because the advice seeker is not you! The advice seeker may not have your negotiating skills, confidence, age, organisational abilities, etc… Keep in mind the strengths and weaknesses of the person you are talking to. Your advice needs to be tailored around their personality, not yours.
Communicate Clearly and Simply
Finally communicate your advice clearly and simply. Don’t give the person a long list of options that will confuse them. Again remember the advice seeker may be feeling overwhelmed. Once you’ve asked multiple questions and feel you understand their dilemma and their personality, give a basic action course, and then remind the individual that at the end of the day, they have to do what they believe is right. You could also direct them to a self-help book that you’ve found helpful in the past.
Offer Long-term Support
You should also consider providing the advice seeker with some long-term support, and, no, I’m not suggesting you give more advice. If it is a work colleague, ask how they are going regularly and share a smile. If it is a friend or family member, phone and check how they are as they deal with the problem. Buy or make them dinner, send a card or email, but just be there in some capacity because actions always speak louder than words.
Remember also, if you are regularly an advice giver, you should also be an advice seeker – you must give as good as you get! In this life we all must be constantly learning. No one is above receiving good advice.