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How to Give Advice and How Not to Give Advice

It may seem like someone is asking for advice—and they may think they want advice—but in reality all they want to do is vent or dump their problem off on you. So you need to assess if the person is actually asking for advice before opening your mouth.

1. Has this person told you what the problem is and why it is important?

2. Have they presented a few possible solutions—given you an indication that they have done some research and aren’t planning to hand the problem over to you?

3. Have they let you know why you—in particular—can help them?

People that actually want advice are happiest with information about one or more options vs. “do this” or “don’t do that”. So resist the temptation to offer a quick fix or a platitude in lieu of advice. “You’ll do fine” or “I wouldn’t worry” is not advice. The only thing it will do is extricate you from the situation without offering any real help in terms of information. Conveying helpful information requires time and thought.

Don’t provide answers and don’t say what you would do—which is probably irrelevant. Don’t talk about a similar situation you found yourself in and how you resolved it unless it is the identical situation—i.e. same company, same coworker, same project, same issue.

Instead focus on the advice seeker’s problem; ask questions and offer possible next steps. The goal of advice isn’t to solve a problem, it’s to make the problem easier to grasp and give the seeker the confidence to act. In fact, really good advice will provide clarity and direction and will also generate enthusiasm to move forward.

The last bit of advice on giving advice is: Once you give advice—or declined to give advice--let the situation go and walk away. You are not responsible for whatever happens after that. Both the decision and the consequences belong to the advice seeker. You have your own problems.

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