Stage 2 of Giving Advice: Is it good?
“Good advice is one of those insults that ought to be forgiven.”
The previous post discussed the first stage of giving advice – is it needed and wanted? This second stage introduces guidelines to make sure the advice is good.
Follow the Sufi checklist.
Sufi culture suggests a method to avoid creating problems or bad feelings during discussions. The content of the discussion must get through three gates successfully before it is mentioned. Each gate is a question. To pass through successfully the answer must be “Yes” to all three questions. Otherwise the topic is dropped. The questions are:
- Is it true?
- Is it necessary to bring up?
- Is it kind?
This checklist should be applied to every statement made while giving advice.
Both parties should already be connected.
Empathic listening has established Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s “connection before correction”. Both parties are empathically connected to what each is feeling and needing. There should be no judgments or blame getting in the way and obscuring this connection to each other. Both people are aware of the interdependent nature and value of their relationship.
Based on the first post enough should be known about the situation. The ground has been set to come up with good advice.
Ask permission to continue.
Advice given without being asked for can be viewed as an intrusion. It can be seen as “butting in” or implying that one cannot look after their own problems. Even if they ask for it, people do not always want advice. They are looking for your sympathy or approval to maintain the status quo.
If you do not already know, ask if the person has already thought of some solutions. If they have not, ask ‘Would you like my help in coming up with some ideas?’ If they have solutions in mind, ask ‘Would you like my help to evaluate your alternatives?’
Offer advice as a suggestion.
Would it be better if advice was called something else? What about discussion, sharing ideas, brainstorming, problem solving, looking for alternatives, suggestion? If you treat giving advice like a joint venture it would include all of these new terms. When the process is done it is up to the other person to choose the next step. The other person is in the best position to know what will work. Ask questions to help them to consider all the factors involved, to identify solutions and to assess all the alternatives.
Advice must be fully thought through before it is offered.
What makes advice good? First, it must not be harmful in any way – physically, mentally or emotionally. It must be kind by avoiding embarrassment, criticism and judgment. Communication skills will need to be at their best. The chances for success must be close to perfect. How will you know?
Have you been in a similar situation and experienced success? If so, remember how you felt and what helped you. If a relative is seeking advice about job opportunities and you work in human resources, then your advice might be useful. However, if a friend is seeking marital advice and you have never been married, you might want to be sympathetic while refraining from offering advice. Your subjective experience will probably have to be altered since everyone and every situation usually have differences.
If you have not had a similar experience, how do you know your advice will work? Think about what you would do in this situation. Take all the time necessary to fully understand all the factors. This may have been done already in Stage 1. Otherwise keep the conversation flowing and ask questions until you get to the root of the problem.
Get reputable help if needed.
You may have credible knowledge already with this type of problem because of your experiences and education. But if not, hopefully there is time to find an expert. Don’t hesitate to admit that you don’t know enough. In highly specialized areas such as health and the law, don’t take chances by guessing. Suggest that the other person get professional advice.
If an expert is not available or accessible, suggest that some research needs to be done, especially by the other person. If you are like me and enjoy learning new things, offer to help. Before jumping in brainstorm what you are looking for and then research it until it is well understood. The library and the Internet are valuable resources to investigate.
The resources you use must be recognized as credible and highly regarded. For example Mayo Clinic has an excellent reputation for health and wellness information. Getting the right information is crucial. Graeme Thomas, a high-performance nutrition consultant and university lecturer based out of London, Ontario, in his recent post “Universal Truths: The Holy Grail of Fitness Frauds” sums it up well:
“At a bare minimum, people giving others advice should have a solid educational background, plenty of experience and the ability to convey that knowledge in an easy-to-digest fashion. Again, if any of these elements are lacking you should be wary and when all of these elements are lacking, you really just need to tune out.”
This process could be lengthy. Understand the time frames and the severity of the issue. Spending too much time or too little can jeopardize success.
“Don’t give your advice before you are called upon.”
Desiderius Erasmus, Dutch Renaissance Humanist, Theologian, Priest, Editor of Latin and Greek editions of the New Testament, (1466-1536)