The Give and Take of Advice

by Michael Corthell

A recent study looked at several kinds of advice that people get and give to understand how likely people are to use it. Four types of advice were studied:

Advice for. A recommendation to pick a particular option.

Advice against.  A recommendation to avoid a particular option.

Information only.  Advisor supplies a piece of information that the decision maker might not know about.

Decision support.  Advisor suggests how to go about making the choice, but does not make a specific recommendation.

In general, the study found, all of these types of advice were useful to some degree, however information only was the most useful kind of advice. That is, people found it most helpful when people told them about aspects of the options that they might not have known about already.

''If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind.''

Best Advice

Always get permission. If you feel the need to give unsolicited advice, ask, “Do you want some information that may help?” Then they have the option to say no. The person will give you more attention when they’ve agreed to listen.
Let them vent their worry, confusion and anger. When people ask for advice, what they often want is to talk about something they can’t get off their mind. Let them talk. Being a good listener is being a good friend. The best way to be a friend is to enable them to be themselves.
ALWAYS be honest. If you don’t truly know how someone feels, don't say, “I know how you feel.” Your insincerity will show. You can still empathize though. Let them know, gently and kindly, that you haven’t been there before, but you’ll try to understand.
DO NOT be judgmental. When someone comes to you for help, odds are they already feel pretty crappy. Don't add to it by saying something like, ''Why did you do that.'' or Why can't you...'' They’re trusting you. Be KIND. 
Make it teamwork. Don't deliver advice like a sermon. Discuss options for action and come to a consensus. Whenever you’ve talked for a few minutes, bring it back to them. “What do you think about that?”
Be there for them long-term. It doesn’t matter so much that you have all the answers or any at all. It is your TIME that matters most. Most people know what’s right for them; they just want to feel validated and supported.
Promises, if you can't keep 'em don't make 'em. Even if you’ve been there before and really, really know what you're talking about, you cannot guarantee specific outcome. Keep expectations realistic by focusing on possibilities. If you tell your friend to take a risk, make sure they know that it is a risk. Help them weigh the possible outcomes, both positive and negative.
Recommend information. Sometimes you can help best by recommending information. Books or online resources you've seen or read yourself. They may feel much better after gaining a new insight through reading, rather than a getting lecture. 
Offer kindness that comes from the heart. Sometimes trying kindness instead of words works best. This is a good approach if you’ve already offered advice on the problem, and then realize not much you say can or will help. Send them a hand-written “thinking of you” card. Totally unexpected in today's world. (you could change a life by doing this). Sometimes people just need to remember that their problem isn’t the end of the world and there are lots of other good things in their life to look forward to.
Do something together. Time is our most precious gift. Give it. You’re not the expert advice giver and don't have all answers—and you don’t have to—but you have the power to make other things happen. Spend time with this person. If you're not close friends maybe you'll become close.
Good positive advice can be life-changing. But sometimes it ruins relationships. Advice should be always be given in the spirit of friendship. Next time you get that urge to tell someone what to do, think about it, and think about it carefully.
''The only way to have a friend is to be one.''
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Lessons from a Lifetime of Bad Advice

Nicole Wilson was 5 years old when she first realized that her father, a former professional football player and grade school teacher, gave bad advice. While she steered clear of his words of "wisdom" as a kid, as an adult she began to see an upside. In this fun, personal talk, she explains how a lifetime of bad advice taught her how to trust her own instincts.