How to Avoid Giving Unwanted Advice

It can be tempting to tell other people how to behave, but for times when you just shouldn’t, here are some alternatives  

Credit: Flickr/dm-set

Don’t be the pointing finger of fate when giving advice isn’t appropriate

If you really can’t bite your tongue on the urge to give unsolicited advice, here’s how to reframe it gently

I shouldn’t have done it, but when she came to ask for academic advice, I couldn’t resist telling my student exactly how to solve a thorny personal problem too. Understandable? Maybe. Appropriate? Not even close. Here’s the advice I should have followed in order to avoid giving any of my own.

Ways Not to Give Advice – Even When You’re Asked

Ask for permission. If you’re not sure of the propriety of advising, say, a friend’s venerable uncle, get clearer on what he wants by asking. Often people whose stories seem to be crying out for resolution simply want an ear and shoulder, not your opinion as to next steps.

Ask questions. Quakers practice a technique known as discernment, in which community members gather with a congregant wrestling with a knotty problem. As all present think about it, various people offer up not answers but questions for the congregant to consider, punctuated by silence. Try asking questions instead of giving answers the next time someone applies for advice. You – and she – may learn a whole lot more.

Get hypothetical. If you’re someone’s boss and feel it’s inappropriate to give personal advice – but can’t resist just the same – invoke the useful friend. “Ah, yes,” you can say sagely, “I have a friend who had that exact problem. She found that she could solve it by doing X, Y, and Z.” This allows your employee to choose not to take your advice without feeling she’s going against your express advice.

Enlarge options. Your pal may appreciate having her tunnel vision – stay or go, yes or no – enlarged to a glorious vista. Can she do some of each – taking the position overseas, say, but telecommuting part of the time so she doesn’t entirely burn her local bridges?

Explore outcomes. Instead of giving straightforward advice – yes, break up with him or no, don’t – wonder aloud what would happen if your friend did one or the other. This can help her visualize likely results, without your directly telling her what to do.

For more sage words about advice – giving and getting – consult Bartlett’s. And here’s a look at how I took my own advice.