How To Give Advice That Matters
Some simple rules to follow when giving advice to people to actually help them grow.
I woke up today to a notification that one of my clients made some suggestions to an article I sent them.
I opened the document to see several scratches and removed sections.
I did approve them all and read through the article. Though through my reading, it was as if I was reading my own work, merely in their words.
When I checked my messages from my client, they told me a few things. One, they cancelled the contract and two, they couldn’t accept this article. Their reason for that was that the article had no basic logic and is filled with grammatical and style mistakes.
I’m not here to rant and rave about me losing a client. Nor do I really mind it. But as this client gave me this feedback, all I felt was confused.
I never knew that “style mistakes” was a thing. It sounds demoralizing. Like the very essence of how I write is wrong.
The “grammatical errors” presented the article to how my client would write the article rather than myself.
And the “basic logic” advice was vague at best. I’m aware that it takes me a while to get to my point in these posts, but I wouldn’t say it’s void of basic logic. There’s obviously flow in this.
The point is, this feedback, along with the dismantled article isn’t advice. It’s an indicator that my writing needs work, but I’m not sure that it needs extensive work as this advice implies.
I get the desire to give feedback, but there is a difference between quality feedback and feedback that we can’t use. What I experienced was feedback that doesn’t help me much. It felt more like an attack.
This problem is a persistent issue that many of us have. We want to give advice but the message gets mixed up.
So, I did some digging. I looked into the proper way to give advice and have rules that we can follow.
The Advice Should Tell An Inspiring Story
Tim Denning wrote a fantastic post last year on delivering advice and there are many pieces of information in there worth looking over. One part that stood out was to make the advice inspiring and that it ties into a story.
For the inspiring portion, it assists in remembering the advice given.
On the storytelling side, this too helps in retaining information. Not many people will remember numbers and data points, but rather the stories. It’s why TED Talks or most motivational speeches we remember vividly.
But this aspect of storytelling implies something else.
Give Advice You’re Familiar With
If you are to tell a story you are obviously required to have personal experience in that area. But it’s also worth looking at the quality of that experience.
For my client, looking at their behaviour suggests that they struggle with giving inspiring advice. Obviously, they’ve had to deal with people not always delivering the best, but my client is so precise and so restrictive that they refuse to learn to be flexible. That’s clear based on the excessive editing when the article otherwise would’ve been alright.
It places my client in a tricky situation. They can give advice, but it’s not helpful in promoting growth as their overall message suggests to me that I need to write exactly like them.
They’re missing various elements of advice-giving making them unfamiliar with giving advice that others can use.
Relay Stories Back To Problems And Help The Other Person
At the end of your advice, you want your story to tie back into the problem at hand. This explains why it’s all relevant and helps things to stick.
But I’d extend that rule a bit further by extending a hand to help. The problem is that not every person is willing to do that. I know this because every issue I’ve had with clients in the past ended similarly to this one: the client not being happy with the work, and provided empty advice despite wanting to help me write better for the future.
Do keep in mind that I make a habit of asking for advice too. As such, I’ve already messaged the client asking for clearer advice. But I doubt that they’d respond.
You don’t want to be like my client and say your peace and run away. If there is a problem, we should at least be willing to guide those along the way. Whether that’s sharing techniques, being open to ask questions or explain things clearly and deeply.
Helping others is the only real way that things stick.
And on that note of assisting, how you begin is also key. My client didn’t do this, but in many circumstances, when we give advice we gravitate to the tone “you should do this because…”
It’s honestly a weak argument and devalues everything that follows after. It does this because you’re focusing more on your side and not considering the entire situation.
The reality is that we won’t know the entire context of a situation. Even in scenarios like I’m in right now, I don’t know what my client is going through nor do they know my situation in life.
As such, I find it better these days to suggest options or merely ask directly.
If something is wrong with my writing technique, suggest a writer, or a course or a podcast, that really helped you and could help me.
The same can apply to other areas of our lives but it all comes back to a specific action that individuals can take. If you’re merely spouting everything that’s wrong about something and do nothing about it, you’re not solving the issue.
Give the person options or guide them personally if you have the time for it.
Set Aside Your Ego
As Tim Dennings said at the beginning in his post:
Some of my advice is useful and some of it is not. Removing your ego from the advice you give makes the quality of your wisdom much higher.
It’s important to recognize that everyone is at a different skill level and that certain actions imply various things. What my client did — despite them expressing they want to help me write better — was nothing short of an attack. They implied that their writing was better.
And maybe it is.
But when you’re looking to hire people, you have to accept that you’re not going to get that quality. And if you’re not happy with it, you sit down and guide them.
To do that requires you to set aside your own ego and attempt to understand where the other person is coming from. Part of that process is even accepting the fact that you don’t have all the answers.
That’s part of the reason why I strive to be clear about my advice and stick to “I believe” or “I think”. Those views and opinions can change and I never try to imply that my word is law or anything. I could be entirely wrong for all I know.
But it’s accepting that fact that makes advice giving stronger. By saying “I think,” you’re suggesting a hypothesis based on what you know. The advice that you’re giving, therefore, is founded on things you experienced, and interpreted, but are setting aside all of the other personal details.
Be Emotional Throughout
The final rule is to be emotional throughout the entire process. No, I’m not saying to open up entirely or break down and sob, but rather instill positive emotions in the person you’re delivering to and to yourself.
The advice I got from my client felt like an attack and all I got from it was “work on your writing.” But that advice is vague and I’m sure after this post is published, I’ll move on.
I am left with nothing but the thought that one person doesn’t like my style of writing because it’s not their style.
So when you give advice and guidance, you want to ensure that they’ll take it. To do that is to express confidence and reassure the person. Don’t give them false hope, but tell them you’re confident they’ll make the right decision or point to examples that contradict a negative belief.
Every moving speech or piece of work that does exceptionally well in providing advice has an emotional element to it. It’s effective because we’ve all experienced similar things.
Some of us have experienced people giving poor advice.
Some of us have experienced people ripping away a piece of their identity.
This is what connects us and allows us to grow as I think good quality advice should connect to emotions and then provide solutions.
Having structure in our advice is everything, and I think that these rules will help in structuring your advice into something that people can use. We all need help in many areas of our lives and while we don’t have all the answers, I think that coming from a place of deep emotions and expressing that is important.
Not only for our recovery but for others to grow from that experience and walk away with more hope and a better plan.