Tips for Giving Good Advice

Tips for Giving Good Advice

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Ever had someone give you advice, only it wasn’t very helpful? Often people mean well, but just because someone has an opinion about something doesn’t mean it’s advice you should take to heart. Over at, Christopher Abel shares “5 Ways to Give Good Advice.” His tips are helpful to keep in mind, whether you’re on the giving or the receiving end. 

One of the most important requirements to giving good advice, in my opinion, is earning the right to speak into someone’s life. This isn’t always a requirement, but when it comes to having to give advice that is hard to hear or offering caution, it’s best when it comes from having earned that right. Abel writes:

“Someone once told me working with people is like working with currency. Every time we show ourselves to be reliable, helpful, caring or fun, we earn some 'coin' with that person. When we disappoint, hurt or make them uncomfortable, we 'spend' some of what we’ve earned. If we spend more than we’ve made, we go into debt with that person and the relationship is in the red.

"Good advice has the potential to make someone uncomfortable. This isn’t a bad thing. But if you are too frank with someone, you have the chance of spending more coin than you’ve saved up. So don’t be afraid to work up to it. If you’re a loyal, reliable, caring person in their life, chances are you can say things other people couldn’t. You’ve earned the coin.”

I remember sharing a fairly personal request with the girls in my small group during our prayer time. There was a new girl there whom I had met only a few hours earlier, and she immediately started offering solutions. She meant well, but since she didn’t know anything about me or the situation, it was more awkward than helpful.

What about when you offer advice but the receiver doesn’t follow it? Abel advises loving unconditionally.

“Sometimes no matter your motives, relationship strength, questioning approach or coin earned, your advice will be ignored. The person you care about will make mistakes and hurt themselves and others. It’s moments like these that make us feel like we’ve failed or lost. But the truth is, life is often more forgiving than we realize. Even the most tragic events can have redeeming qualities.

"Don’t give up on people. Sometimes the best advice is presence. Henri Nouwen says it like this: ‘When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.’”

Even if your advice goes unheeded, it’s really powerful to still be there when the consequences play out. Rather than being the one to say “I told you so,” what if you were the person who simply said, “I’m here for you no matter what”?

Along with earning the right to give your advice in the first place, and loving unconditionally even if the person doesn’t take it, what are other tips for giving good advice? 

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  • --Here is a tip: learn when it is appropriate NOT to offer advice.  This really hit me hard a few years ago.  A friend was going through a rough time, and it seemed like that was the topic of many of our conversations for a while.  In the past, my friend had asked me for advice in a different situation, so I thought advice might be appreciated this time as well.  After a couple minutes, my friend finally told me to "just stop trying to fix things."  All that was needed in that situation was a listening ear, not advice.  I've learned that if I'm not sure if someone wants my advice, I should ask.

  • --I saw this article yesterday, I loved both that he recognised and acknowledged the ability of a relative stranger to speak to something with clarity that a trusted friend might not be able to, AND the idea that you first need to "earn" the ability to give the advice you're about to.

    There's just something about that girl who married at 20-22 trying to give advice to a 25-30 something single that pushes my buttons every. time. :P

  • --Recently, I've stopped giving my friends advice at all. Instead, I just ask them questions to lead them to the conclusion I wanted them to make in the first place. No matter how good your advice is, people still don't usually like being told what to do.

  • --What Christopher Abel says is essentially the same message that Stephen Covey (7 Habits guy) wrote about.  Each of us an "emotional bank account" and when we are kind and "invest" in that person positively we gain deposits.  Whenever we hurt or demand favors of them, we lose deposits.  So be mindful of your accounts with others.

    There is also something to be said regarding "Pigs before Swine".  Often, it's best to not to volunteer advice in the first place regardless of your account standing simply because the person is not in a position (mentally or emotionally) to receive it.  Most of the time, people KNOW what the right thing to do is.  There is no sense browbeating them over it.  

    Finally, I'll say that if you solicit advice, don't be surprised if what you receive gives you a negative "sorry I asked" feeling.  If you ask for honest, useful advice, you may very well get an answer you don't want to hear.  It's up to you to decide whether to accept or reject it.  But I suggest you at least consider the answer given if it makes you unfortable.  It very well may be the answer you didn't want to hear, but needed to.

  • --You touch on a good point, Mike. Often the truth is not what we want to hear. Part of maturing is being able to accept what you know is true even when you don't want to hear it, especially when it comes to dating. It would worry me greatly if you were dating someone who couldn't take wise counsel.

  • --When I was younger I spent a few years volunteering on a crisis hotline.  I remember that we were always trained to listen and empathize but not to give practical advice.  The truth is most people aren't looking for solutions.  They just want to be heard.  Maybe they don't have any real friends who understand them.  They just want someone to acknowledge that it's okay for them to feel the way they do, as long as they aren't planning to harm others or themselves.

  • --Sorry, should be "Pearls before Swine" (not pigs)

  • --I read a quote once that stuck with me:

    I used to give advice to everyone who asked for it.  Now I only give it to those who can use it.

    And it's true that people often do not receive unsolicited advice well.  Based on some marriage sermons, when staff members started bringing complaints to me, I often asked, "Do you want me to just listen or offer solutions?"  And a good portion of the time, it was just venting, they wanted to tackle the problem themselves.

    But sometimes people brought me the weirdest questions.  For example, I don't have children, but people would bring me problems they were having with them in different situations.  I found that surprising.

    One of my staff members explained it this way: people bring you things when they are ready because they know you will tell them the truth, even if they know it's not something they want to hear.

    I can live with that.

  • --Oh, but my grandparents have a technique that I've also adopted.  When warranted, they often took a strong position of advocacy prior to a decision being made.  Once a decision was made, they shut up.  If a decision against their advice was a failure, they never said, "I told you so" or rubbed someone's face in it.

    The net effect was that even if someone had disregarded their advice the first time, many of them decided it was better to get their input in advance.  They knew they wouldn't get punished if they chose another course of action, but they knew they would get honest input up front.

  • --I like to ask the "Have you thought about?" or "What about?" or "What if?" When I give advice, I try to say things like "I would think," or "This has helped me." I do have a tendency to offer an opinion without being asked, but...I hope I counteract that by not being dogmatic!

  • --I appreciate what @Keith and @BDB had to say - either just listen, or give your advice and then shut up about it :-)

    Having taken some basic psychology courses, I was a little wary to try counseling - because it seemed that the majority of what they would do would just mirror what I was saying. It can be very helpful in having one feel heard, understood, and cared for and in having the person go or be led toward a solution. But it's pretty lousy when the person wanting advice actually, you know, wants good advice. I use the mirroring and empathy/Socratic questioning techniques the most with female friends, but as a 'fixer,' if I talk about problems, I want actual solutions! I want someone to go over options, apply some principles, and help analyze the cost/benefit ratio. I want it fixed! And then, after the advice is given, I'll appreciate some follow-up to see how the situation is going, but I don't want to hear nagging about whether or not I've followed the advice and the outcome. So, my algorithm for giving good advice are a bit different.

    1. Does the situation warrant advice?

        a. Does not warrant advice: Person is only venting/sharing/complaining and does not ask for solutions OR person affirms that she just wants a listening ear OR I am not in position to give advice OR situation is inconsequential

        b. Does warrant advice: My advice is specifically requested OR 'What do I do?' is asked OR I am in a position in which my advice is expected (parent, teacher, doctor, etc.) OR situation is serious enough that intervention/advice is required

    2. Am I in a position to give advice?

        a. Not able to give advice: No relevant experience, knowledge, pertinent position, or previous close friendship

        b. Able to (possibly) give advice: Relevant experience or special knowledge, pertinent position, or existing friendship.

    3. IF 1a and 2a --> do not give advice. ---> Listen and employ empathy (and maybe chocolates)

    4. IF 1b and 2a --> do not give specific advice --> listen, offer support, and find someone who can give advice or help the situation

    5. IF 1b and 2b --> listen, support, empathize and give good advice.

        a. Cornerstone of good advice: Biblical principles (respect, justice, honor, love, God's glory, etc.) and what is specifically commanded or prohibited by the Bible or clear, historic Church teaching.

        b. Foundation level of good advice: Natural law principles (outcomes of physical/mental/emotional harm or benefit, laws of physics/biology, etc.) and human law (e.g., no, you probably should not be speeding through the school zone, but thank you for asking)

       c.  Side-walls of good advice: specific knowledge (eg, doctor proscribing a specific treatment to a patient) or relevant experience (this happened to me, and here is what I would do....).

    6. What do I do after the advice is given?

        a. Follow-up with questions about the person's general well-being as warranted

        b. Shut up about your advice given and do not remark negatively on the outcomes, unless it is to apologize for rotten advice:-)

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