How often have you remained silent when you saw a friend struggling with a problem? Don’t feel bad if you have done this—what you unwittingly did was follow an important rule in how to give good advice: wait to be asked.
As we go through life and experience the world, we solve problems, observe behavior, and generally get better at living. Experience arms us with the knowledge that we share to help other people. It’s a natural behavior, especially when it applies to the people we love.
Your friend’s problem belongs to them, and they have a right to solve it, not solve it, or ask for help solving it. This is where following some helpful guidelines about advice-giving comes in. That’s right; we’re going to give you some advice about giving advice.
First Things First
Let them rant. Sometimes the act of venting allows the person to feel better just by the release of energy. Sometimes it will lead them to a solution by listening to themselves. If it doesn’t:
Empathize. That experience that we talked about earlier–if you’ve had the same problem, remember how you felt at the time. If your friend in need knows that you understand how they feel, they might be inclined to ask you for advice, which leads us to the next point:
Wait to be asked. Or offer to help. Either way, make the advice-giving your friend’s choice. They are climbing their problem wall, and they may have figured out what they need on their own. Volunteered information could help, but it’s more respectful to let them ask you for assistance.
Let them know you care. Letting them know that you care about their welfare by a card, a note, an encouraging email, or a small gesture means a great deal to a person in a tough situation. It may not help their specific problem, but it builds trust if they do decide to ask for help.
If They Ask
Use a story. How you present that desired advice means everything. You want your friend to know that you understand and if you’re sure your input will help, you want them to use it. By working your knowledge into a story, you will give them an indelible reference to remember. Speaking of stories—
Keep it concise. When you hear someone trying to tell a story, but they get stuck in the details, it becomes a chore instead of a pleasure. You start to forget why they are telling it at all. Don’t be that someone. Think about which story details matter and stick to them.
Boost their confidence. It’s likely that your friend doesn’t often find themselves in this situation. Let them know that their judgment has been sound in other parts of their life so that they can trust it in the present predicament. If they feel stuck, the next step would be to take their minds off the problem.
Distract them. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with an answer to something you couldn’t remember the previous day? The mind works on problems even when you’re not consciously trying to. A museum visit, a book, or an activity to change the scenery helps them pass the issue to a different part of the brain.
If they are spiritual-minded, you can suggest online advice, astrology, or communal problem-solving like this article.
What Not To Do
Don’t make promises. If you have experienced the same problem, always remember that the people involved are different. There may be a good chance that your solution will yield the same outcome, but you can never be one hundred percent positive that it will. Next up: persuasion or not?
Don’t persuade. Avoiding persuasion is important for several reasons. By persuading someone to agree with you, you are stopping their critical thinking process. Help this process instead: ask them relevant questions so that they may reach conclusions that best overcome their situation.
Don’t judge. People make mistakes in their lives. Using language like “should” or “why didn’t you” is going to put your friend on the defensive and your advice will go unheeded. Instead, let them know that you’ve made mistakes as well. If only perfect people only gave advice, nobody would be in a position to help.
Don’t downplay. You may not think that your friend’s problem is a big deal. It is to them. Even if you know that it’s a small problem, make sure that you respect their feelings about it. Helpful advice is just that–it won’t help if you don’t take their challenge seriously.
How to Give Good Advice at Work
Most of these ideas will transfer to the workplace easily. Of course, you’re not free to leave and go to a movie, but the points about respect, waiting to be asked, and boosting the confidence of the person all play heavily into the problem-solving process.
The workplace offers a more varied pool of solutions as well. The resources can come from co-workers, supervisors, and help desk personnel. A workplace structure also provides a clearer framework if the problem escalates–the chain of command is nearly always the path to a solution.
Help is Always Available
Don’t forget professional sources. If your friend is in a situation that advice will not remedy, remember that there are hotlines, text helplines, and mental health professionals that know how to handle difficult and dangerous problems. Knowing how to give good advice is important, but be smart in assessing if it’s the right solution for your friend or co-worker.
There are also vast amounts of online resources that you can use to collaborate with your friend to find relevant and helpful information. Our blog has a library of advice from which to choose to help guide you through some of life’s challenges. We invite you to explore and accept the guidance you find here to make the most of your journey.