Hint: start by listening to what people need.
We all love giving advice.
We have the perfect solution to every problem except our own.
Helping others feels good. You not only enjoy seeing how people overcome their issues — you are proud it was because of your advice.
That’s the problem with helping others; it can quickly turn into an ego-booster rather than a selfless act. Your friends or colleagues are the protagonists of their own struggles, but, immediately, you want to take over — you become the hero who will rescue them from their suffering.
Most advice is useless. It pleases the provider more than the receiver. It’s created based on one’s expectations, not on understanding others.
The best advice is in the eye of the beholder. Not in yours.
People Want to Talk to You (Not to Listen to Your Voice)
“Please give me some good advice in your next letter. I promise not to follow it.” — Edna St. Vincent Millay
We all need help to solve our problems. But that doesn’t mean we are open to listening or, even worse, following any guidance we get from others.
When someone is having problems, we can’t help but recommend a solution. “You should do X” or “Have you tried this?” I fell into that trap many times until I realized I was providing something that no one had requested.
Unsolicited advice doesn’t work. Offering something that people did not request is pushy. Your advice will automatically go to the junk box.
Don’t spam people with your words of wisdom.
That your help is free doesn’t mean others will take it. Moreover, when people receive coaching they didn’t request, they feel uneasy rather than appreciative.
Getting into someone else’s business is delicate.
If someone hasn’t opened the door of his confidence, tread carefully. You could jeopardize the trust that a person has on you. If you jump too fast into a conclusion, a friend can feel that you don’t know her that well. Or that the advice you are providing is neither relevant to her nor genuine.
In most cases, when people say they want to talk to you is because they want to do the talking. Your role is to listen, not to take over.
Your advice is only useful in one case: when someone asks for it.
Even if one of your friends shares plenty of details about a situation they are facing, that doesn’t mean they want any advice from you. Don’t jump to that conclusion. We are wired to believe that, when people open up their hearts, it is because they need our help.
Some folks just want to talk.
Sharing can help people let go of the pain. For some, talking to another person is a way to reflect on what’s going on. The moment they are telling their own story out loud, they understand what’s really happening.
Listening can be more effective than any advice. Having someone you can lean on is comforting. If your partner is going through hard times, lending an ear can mean everything for him.
If a colleague just expects you to be a sounding board, be okay with it.
No One Cares About Your Advice
“If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” — Confucius
People don’t care about your advice. Or mine, for that reason.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your advice is wisdom. You can share your experiences or knowledge, but you can’t impart wisdom — insights happen from within.
When you try to be smart, you could do more damage than not.
When people are going through harsh times, they don’t want to be reminded of their weaknesses. Making people feel more miserable than they already are is what happens when you behave like a know-it-all.
Our blind spots cloud our perspective. It’s easy to feel entitled and start giving sound advice that no one wants to hear. I’ve made that mistake many many times.
I’m not alone. Most consultants and motivational writers suffer from “illusory superiority,” too. The belief that we are smarter than we actually are is a common cognitive bias called the “Dunning–Kruger effect.”
Knowledge blindness makes you feel overconfident until others prove you wrong.
That’s why we feel like a superhero when someone is suffering. Watch out not to cross the thin line between trying to help and having all the answers. It’s something I consciously try to avoid — especially when writing articles like this. I want to help people think — so they can find the solution — rather than telling them exactly what to do.
Most managers fall prey to feeling superior; when their teams share an issue they are facing, bosses immediately default to provide solutions. Sometimes employees already have some ideas in mind — sharing with their managers helps them get perspective.
Buddha said: “If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind.”
Who gives the advice matters less than how the advice is given.
When you are busy trying to prove that you know better, you stop listening. Without understanding the other person, how can you possibly help?
Don’t Think or Judge, just Listen
“Never miss a good chance to shut up.”
― Will Rogers
Sometimes, the best advice you can give is NOT providing any at all.
Staying silent is more effective than providing unsolicited advice. It’s switching your role from hero to helper; to focus on listening and understanding what’s going through the other person’s mind.
It’s better to be a good listener than giving advice that no one will follow.
The best advice is being empathetic to the person that needs help. Practice walking in the other person’s shoes, rather than trying them to walk in yours.
Advice giving is emotional and intimate. Regardless if you are providing feedback on a coworkers’ management style or if a friend should quit her job, it’s more moving than we usually assume. Addressing personal behaviors and emotions can be perceived as you being judgmental.
Empathy is critical to connecting with people in a way that they don’t get defensive and stop listening.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge said: “Advice is like snow — the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.”
Avoid the “If I were you…” Each person is unique. The same advice given to two different people will trigger different reactions. Don’t assume that others feel or experience life through the same lens as you do.
Your role is not to impose your perspective, but to help people find a solution that works for them.
Listening requires an open mind. Even if you are staying silent, you can’t help someone if, deep in your mind, you are judging their emotions or behaviors.
Asking questions without interrupting can help you (and the other party) better understand what the real problem is.
How to Give Advice
“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.”
— Jimi Hendrix
Advice only works if someone requests it.
More empathy, less talking. In case someone asks for your advice, use the following steps as a guide.
- Understand expectations: When someone asks for your help or says that wants to talk to you, clarify what they want from you. You don’t need to be overly explicit but asking “sure, what do YOU need?” will help you realize clear expectations.
- Listen first: Silence your advice. Don’t ask questions yet. Even if you don’t understand some details of the story. Let the other person unload their emotions and issues first. You can take notes or write down questions, so your mind doesn’t get distracted thinking about what you want to ask later.
- Ask questions: Providing clarity is the best advice. “What’s going on?” or “How do you feel?” are a great start. They are open enough for the person to start talking as well as address both events and emotions involved.
- Help them frame the problem. Before discussing possible courses of action, the person needs to understand what he/she is going through. Most people can’t find a solution because they can’t separate details from the real problem. “What would you like to happen?” —Ask this question to set up the base to explore solutions. Any advice you give will be useless if it doesn’t enable the transformation that the other person expects.
- Brainstorm together. If someone explicitly wants your advice, have a conversation rather than a monologue. I tend to brainstorm too fast, so; sometimes, I realized that I’m doing most of the talking. Let the other person build on your ideas, provide new ones, or challenge the solutions you bring to the table.
- Don’t provide a solution; provide options. “This is what you need to do…” is the most common way where conversations get stuck. Acting from an “Illusory Superiority” disengages other people. Find several options rather than pushing for the one you like the most.
- Analyze potential solutions. Continue the dialogue but, this time, to evaluate the pros and cons of the different ideas. Remember that solutions should be evaluated through the eyes of the other person, not yours.
- Avoid the trap of “If I were you.” Problems are personal; the same applies to find the right solution. It’s not you who are facing the problem. Even if they ask you: “What would you do?” Push back. Help your colleague keep in mind that she’s the one with the problem, not you. She needs to own her decisions.
People want to talk to you, not to listen to your advice. Don’t assume help should come in the form of words or “you should do this…” solutions.
Bite your tongue. Unsolicited advice doesn’t work.
Listen to others. The best advice you can give is your silence. Ask questions. Help people find a solution that will work for them.
Remember, let others be the smartest person in the room.
But, hey, you don’t have to follow my advice. 😉