“It’s almost like people will say to you, ‘I want a strategy,’ and what they really mean is, ‘I want someone to understand,’” said Heather Havrilesky, an advice columnist and author of “What if This Were Enough?”
Melody Li, an Austin, Texas-based licensed and marriage family therapist, suggests asking, “Would you be willing to hear some of my ideas, or is now not a good time?” This balances the playing field, she said. Be prepared for the person to decline your offer to give input. Respect the person’s wishes because if you don’t back off, it will come across as if you have an agenda.
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Be clear on the advice-seeker’s goals. When people approach Austin Kleon, author of “Steal Like an Artist,” for advice, he drills down and identifies the exact problem: “What do you want to know specifically that I can help you with?” This way, he won’t overwhelm the person with irrelevant information.
Ms. Li suggests repeating back what you heard to be sure you’ve grasped the heart of the issue. Ask what outcome the advice-seeker hopes to see so your ideas align with the person’s desires. Next, inquire about what has been done to address the problem so your suggestions won’t be redundant.
Consider your qualifications. People often go to those close to them for advice, even if family members and friends aren’t always in the best position to effectively assist, Dr. Tost said. Ask yourself: “Do I have the expertise, experience or knowledge needed to provide helpful advice in this situation?” If you do, fantastic! Advise away. If you don’t, rather than give potentially unhelpful advice, identify someone who is in a better position to help.
“The key is to put your loved one’s needs and interests front and center,” Dr. Tost said.
Collaborate on a solution
Be friendly. Words have power. Words can heal. A recent study found that doctors who simply offer assurance can help alleviate their patients’ symptoms. It’s essential to start the advice-giving conversation with this same reassuring tone. Certified life coach and leadership trainer Dee C. Marshall makes sure to praise the advice-seeker before she offers a single suggestion. She’ll say something like, “I really applaud you for knowing to do X and knowing to do Y.” Complementing someone’s judgment not only makes the person feel good about his or herself, but it helps keep the equilibrium intact.