The Problem with Advice (how to give good advice)

How great does this feel? A friend, a client, someone shares a problem with you and you HAVE THE ANSWER! You can give some really good advice! It’s perfect! You get to help, make a difference, share your expertise. Their problem is solved and you feel great about yourself! WIN-WIN!

Or is it?

You see, there are a few problems with giving good advice. You have probably experienced a few of these over time. I know I have!

Here I will share some of my experience, give examples of problems with good advice and tips to give good advice in a way that makes a positive impact. All so you can give advice to your clients in a way that will make them value you more! 

When it went wrong for me!

Giving advice badly

It’s absolutely not my intention to tell you to stop helping people, to stop giving advice. I know how easy it is for advice to go wrong. It’s gone wrong for me in both the giving and the receiving of advice. 

There have been times when I have given advice on something that I knew inside-out. What I was sharing was super clear to me! And that was my main pitfall. Because it was clear to me and I knew it inside-out, I missed some critical steps in my advice that someone who doesn’t know it inside-out would really need to get started. 

I had shared my knowledge without properly considering the other person’s situation. I made assumptions about their knowledge and took for granted information that had become second nature to me but was vital for them to be able to implement the advice! 

Receiving badly delivered good advice

Equally, I’ve received good advice, well-intentioned but delivered in a way that not only meant I couldn’t act it on. It also left me feeling worried, and questioning myself. 

This was never the intention of the person giving the advice, but it was the result and it stopped me from using their services in the future… The last thing you want is to lose clients because of well-intended but poorly-delivered advice!

I had sought the help of a professional for an injury that was causing me some difficulty. 

As I was hearing it, I started to realise that it would be difficult to implement it for practical reasons particular to my situation. As the torrent of advice kept coming at me, I started to feel a bit overwhelmed. It kept feeling harder and harder to act on. 

Advice Overwhelm

Because I got overwhelmed, I found it hard to ask questions.  Soon time was up and I had to go. This left me feeling a bit concerned about the situation, worried even. Definitely uncomfortable. 

How to give good advice

I thought as I couldn’t follow the advice,  I couldn’t solve the problem I was there to resolve. I was worried it would become a big problem!

After some time worrying, followed by some reflection, I started to realise the advice was simply one approach. There probably were other ways to achieve the same outcomes. 

I started to look inside of myself for the knowledge I already had, create some strategies that could work for me and hopefully it would give some good results. And it did! 

The uncomfortable conversation I had with the professional was useful in that it forced me to dig a little deeper, think a little bit differently about my situation to come up with possible solutions. 

Problems you may have encountered when giving advice

Here are 5 common problems you may have experienced when giving advice, leaving you feeling frustrated perhaps, or worse. 

  • You give someone advice that you KNOW will help them, but they don’t take it. They do something else and maybe even get to a bigger problem. Leaving you with a sense of ‘I told you so!’
  • You give someone advice and they seem to nod and agree, but they don’t act on it and they don’t use your services again. Leaving you wondering why they didn’t come back. 
  • You give someone advice and they don’t seem to understand it. Leaving you feeling frustrated because it is obvious, isn’t it?! 
  • The person receiving the advice actually, perhaps actively resists the advice perhaps based on habits, beliefs, values or other intrinsic factors. Leaving you annoyed that they can’t see it differently.
  • Are you taking it personally when your advice isn’t taken? Are you left feeling frustrated, annoyed and maybe even a bit angry when people don’t take your advice? Do you judge them a little bit for it?

The Advice Paradox

It might help you to know that particularly the negative reactions you might experience in these situations, are often borne from the fact that your intentions were really good but didn’t have the desired result of making a positive impact. And because achieving that positive impact is so important to you (good intent) you try to exert control over a situation that is outside of your control. This is what leaves you feeling frustrated etc, which in turn expresses itself as a judgement on the other person. This is the paradox of giving good advice. Good intentions can turn into a negative experience based on how much you care.

How to deliver Good Advice well?

“All well and good”, I hear you say. “But what should I be doing then?”

Yes! This is the best bit! Advice can be incredibly powerful if you consider the following tips. 

  • Share your knowledge, expertise and experience but always be aware that there are always multiple ways of solving a problem. 
  • Avoid giving overly prescriptive advice. This creates a situation where options and possibilities get excluded due to be overly prescriptive, and it makes it even harder for someone to take on board.  
  • Remind yourself that your awareness of the other person’s situation is limited. Even if they’ve shared a lot with you, it is very difficult to have the full picture. The other person may not even have the full picture. This means there are always limitations to the level of understanding and knowledge of the situation. 
  • Ask questions instead of ‘telling’. Reframe your knowledge and experience into questions to enable them to think about their situation from a different perspective. Questions like “what possible solutions do you see?” or “How could this work for you?” “What are the obstacles? What is needed to remove obstacles or work around them?” “How much commitment/time/effort can you realistically give to this?” and “What is feasible for you?”
  • Develop the solution with that person, rather than for that person, so that together you create a situation that can be acted upon. The person will feel empowered and will continue to come back for your services, advice etc. 

The Golden Rule for giving good advice

  • This is the GOLDEN RULE! Give advice without attachment. The advice is out there for people to do with as they see fit. If they don’t take it up, become aware that that is not a reflection on you. It can be frustrating when people don’t take your advice. Some people take it personally.
  • And finally, recognise the good intention in your giving of the advice and understand that what others do with the advice is out of your control so it’s not something you have to take to heart. 

In Short

Advice, no matter how well-meant, can be difficult for people to take on board when it doesn’t take into account factors in their situation that create a challenge or obstacle. They may have found this difficult to communicate or not fully realised the impact and consequences. 

Advice when just given, can be the off-loading of a great idea, great practical tips, strong opinion etc in a one-way stream of words. When giving advice in this way, it can be hard to act on it. Many professionals fall into this trip; they have the knowledge. It is obvious to them. They take for granted the difficulties that may come up, the things they had to learn when they first started. They fail to emphasize and consider the resistance someone might experience.

By working with someone to build advice relevant to their own situation, and making use of their own thoughts, experience and insight through using questions, you can make a real positive impact. Advice created in this way creates a way forward that works! And for this, the person you help will always be grateful!

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