When someone asks for your advice, it can feel like a compliment. Or, it might feel like the pressure is on you to fix someone else’s problem. Giving advice is more than just showing off your knowledge. It takes patience, empathy, and solid listening skills to give a helpful answer.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Steps for Giving Advice to Close Family and Friends
- Steps for Giving Advice to Someone in a Professional Setting
- Frequently Asked Questions: Giving Advice
This guide can help you dig deeper into the art of giving advice. Remember that the first step to giving advice is to listen closely to your family, friends, and colleagues. When you understand what they want, you can offer both your support and your advice
Steps for Giving Advice to Close Family and Friends
Family and friends often turn to each other to ask for help. But when you are careless with your advice, you can appear pushy and judgmental. Close relationships can handle a lot, but advising a loved one has its challenges. Take these steps to keep your advice kind and supportive.
Step 1: If they did not ask, approach with kindness and caution
You see your sister's current boyfriend as a colossal mistake in the making. You've listened to her complain, but she's never asked what you think. Do you dive in and give her your best relationship advice? Or do you let it go and hope she asks for your help?
Giving unsolicited advice can seem like a good idea if you believe you’re being helpful. But you can quickly get yourself into trouble when you’re careless. Here’s why giving advice that wasn’t requested can go badly:
- People don't like being told what to do.
- People don’t like being told they are wrong.
- Dropping advice on someone can feel like an insult or confrontation if they weren’t expecting it.
- Friends and family members can become defensive, decreasing the chance they’ll listen to you.
The only exception is when a loved one is in danger. If they feel unsafe or you think they may hurt themselves, do what you can to help right now. Take action to keep your loved one safe and don’t worry about hurt feelings for the moment.
In all other cases, open up a conversation first and offer support. Listen as much as possible, and only share your thoughts if your loved one seems open. You’ll read more about listening and responding in later steps.
Step 2: If they ask you, clarify what they need
Before you share your thoughts, try to understand what your loved one is asking for. If you get onto the wrong track, they may resist or think you aren’t listening. Get them to talk about what they need and why. The more details they can share, the better advice you can give.
Sometimes, a family member may come to you asking you for advice. But what they actually want is reassurance or permission. If you sense this, recognize it and discuss it openly. You can support your loved one by putting their concern into words.
Step 3: Listen and reflect
Listen closely and interrupt as little as possible. People often think out loud, processing their thoughts as they talk through them. Your loved one may start with one question. But as they share their thoughts, you may find their real problem is a bit different.
Listen to the emotional undertone and let it guide your answer. You may pick up on some of the following emotions or personality traits:
- Lack of confidence
Allow plenty of time for your loved one to share their situation and why they want your input. Think of your discussion as a way of waking up those deep questions. Express your empathy by repeating what they say to guide their thoughts and encourage them to go a little further.
Step 4: Name the underlying emotion
The closer you are to understanding your loved one’s emotional state, the more on-target your advice will be. As you zero in on their feelings, repeat any you hear them say.
- Your loved one: “It’s scary not knowing when my next paycheck will come.”
- You: “Yes, not having enough money would be scary.”
You could also suggest an emotion and see if they agree.
- You: “So, when you went to school but didn’t know what your major was, did that make you anxious or excited at first?”
When they can talk more openly about their emotions, you’ll understand their goals better. Your advice can help them resolve their emotional struggle and meet their needs.
Step 5: Give your advice with empathy
Be empathetic and understanding about how your loved one is reacting to their situation. Think about what it’s like to walk in their shoes. When you can be on their level, you’ll earn their trust when they feel vulnerable.
Keep judgments to yourself. You may be tempted to label a person's feelings or actions as part of your advice, but this will shut down your conversation. Stop if you hear yourself thinking that someone "should have" or "ought to" do or feel anything.
Finally, give your advice. Be sure you have done the connecting and empathizing first. You want to both preserve your relationship and make an impact. State your advice as a suggestion and offer your ongoing support.
At times it can be like you are consoling them as well, but no matter what, you want your loved one to know that you care regardless of what they choose to do next.
Steps for Giving Advice to Someone in a Professional Setting
When someone asks for help at work, it's different than advising a friend or family member. Job expectations and hierarchy create a different challenge when giving advice. Also, if it's necessary to give unsolicited advice, do it in a supportive way, as shown in the last step.
Step 1: Make sure you're the right person to give advice
Before you say a word, be sure you're the right person to be giving this person advice. In a work setting, the right messenger can make the words easier to digest. You want the person to feel heard and feel confident about taking action.
- How well do you personally know your coworker?
- How well do you or could you relate to them?
- Do you have the credibility and knowledge to back up your recommendation?
- If you aren’t the right person, who could you choose instead?
Step 2: Speak so your message is heard
Your coworker may be approaching you for advice, but it doesn't mean they're ready for it. Even so, you can make your message easier to digest.
Here are a few ways to help your coworker receive your comments as helpful and supportive advice.
- When you speak, be kind and respectful.
- Show empathy with their situation. Relate to their feelings with a similar situation, if possible.
- Focus on things your coworker can observe and has control over, like their behaviors and choices.
- Avoid any language that sounds disrespectful or confrontational.
- Do your best to avoid sounding pushy. Phrase your advice as suggestions or ideas to try.
Step 3: Be honest and specific
When you're ready to share your advice, get to the truth and be as specific as possible. It might be uncomfortable, and it may not be what your coworker wants to hear. But honesty will be the most helpful to your coworker.
You can be honest without being rude. Kindly share your viewpoint and why you see things that way. If they disagree with your advice, acknowledge that you might not have the whole story and that you're open to more discussion.
Step 4: Ask for their thoughts, then listen closely
When you've given your advice, ask your coworker what they think. Listen carefully and let them speak. You want their feedback to see if you've addressed their problem accurately. If it's clear that you got off-base, go back to what your coworker said and try again.
Your coworker came to you for help, but they have insight, too. If you can get them to talk about their ideas, you've gone beyond just giving advice. You've helped your coworker craft a potential solution to their problem.
Follow up after a week or two and ask your coworker how their situation is going. This extra step shows you'll give them support when they really need it.
Step 5: When giving unsolicited advice, offer to share ideas
If you’re preparing to give unsolicited advice, your approach makes all the difference. You want your coworker to be receptive, not defensive or embarrassed. Since they aren’t asking for your help, approach it as an idea-sharing session. This non-threatening method is more like a supportive conversation than giving advice.
When your coworker feels like you’re joining them in their struggle, your ideas have a better chance at sticking. Start by finding a frustration about the problem that you can both agree on. For example, you might say, “I notice you and Sarah always seem to struggle getting the monthly report out. That must be frustrating.”
From there, share your thoughts as ideas your coworker could try to improve that situation. As you share your ideas, ask them to brainstorm with you. By the end of your conversation, your coworker will have both ideas and support for improving a problematic situation.
Frequently Asked Questions: Giving Advice
Here, we’ll review a few common questions people have when trying to help others with advice.
How can you give advice to a friend with relationship problems?
You hate to see a friend stay stuck in an unhappy situation, so how do you give them advice about their relationship?
Find out if they want your advice. If your friend isn’t asking for your help, they may only want you to listen. They may just be complaining but resolving the issues on their own. Clarify by asking, “Do you want any help solving this issue, or do you just need me to listen right now?”
Relationship issues are very personal. Be honest, but also be kind and careful with your word choice. Keep in mind how you’d want to hear advice from someone. And if they want your advice, be careful not to make it sound like a lecture.
How can you give advice to someone who’s sad or depressed?
A person coping with depression is overwhelmed with emotion (or a lack of emotion). Their experience may also distort their thoughts and beliefs. And they may not want to accept your help because they believe their situation is hopeless.
In this situation, it helps to do a lot of listening. If you give advice, consider things that are practical and easy to do. You may suggest going on walks or spending time with friends and family, but don’t imply that these are all it takes to overcome depression or sadness.
Avoid suggestions like “look on the bright side,” “stop thinking negatively,” or “get outside more.” Those actions are easier said than done when a person is sinking into deep sadness or depression.
If they’re struggling with basic self-care or life responsibilities, they may have clinical depression. Offer to go with them to the doctor or a counselor. Otherwise, listen and offer your understanding. Keep your advice practical and down to earth.
Important tip: If you’re concerned that your loved one might be considering harming themselves (see some of the signs here), call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for help.
Should you give advice to someone who doesn’t want it? Why or why not?
When someone isn’t interested in hearing your ideas, should you push forward and give them advice anyway? Or should you keep it all to yourself? Let’s take a closer look at both questions.
Keep your advice to yourself.
Pushing advice on someone can strain your relationship. Teens and young adults often prefer to explore their own ideas and interests. And if a person feels like their life is out of control, they may want to do things their way for a while. Consider letting these situations play out before offering your thoughts.
Go ahead and share your advice.
Some situations still call for solid advice, even if you think the other person doesn’t want it. If a person is doing something destructive or harmful, you may need to have a heart-to-heart with them. They may still remember what you said, even if they don’t follow your advice at first.
What should you do when someone doesn’t take your advice?
Your advice is based on your viewpoint, and you share it to help others. But you can only lead the horse to the water. You can’t make it drink. So what can you do when someone doesn’t take your advice? Here are a few things to keep in mind.
It’s likely not personal. Sure, some people like to prove themselves or hurt someone else by going against common advice. But in many cases, people just like to make their own decisions. Whether they’re right or they’re wrong, being in control matters.
Unless it’s dangerous or hurtful, you can simply accept their choice. Your child may decide to go to a different school than you’d hoped. Your sister may date someone you think is really annoying. But if you want a person in your life, try to accept the situation and move forward.
Giving Relevant Advice
Giving good advice is about more than just sharing your opinion. It takes patience, empathy, and a lot of listening.
When you can focus on the other person’s needs, your advice will be relatable and relevant. Take time to be thoughtful, and your advice will be a gift.
- Goldfarb, Anna. “How to Give People Advice They’ll Be Delighted to Take.” The New York Times, October 22, 2019, nytimes.com