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Marketing Viewpoint by Ruth Winett

Three Steps to Giving Advice that Helps, not Offends

Most of us love to give advice to others. We love to jump in with long dissertations on what we or an acquaintance or a colleague did in a similar situation. This approach may not be helpful. When people seek advice from you, listen carefully, and then use skillful questioning to help them explore their problems and their options. Be sure to determine why they have approached you so that you can respond appropriately.

Helping Others To Help Themselves

First, assess why the person is seeking advice. Often people seek your advice because they:

  • Want to find out what you and others have done in similar situations--conducting research.
  • Want you to tell them what to do--seeking a prescription.
  • Want to tell you what they have already done--making a report.
  • Want to know if they made the right choice/decision--seeking confirmation.
  • Want to show they respect you--attempting to flatter.

Second, try to understand the problem. Ask the other person question, such as "What happened? What led up to this crisis? Who or what was involved? What choices do you or your company have?" You can be most helpful by steering the other person to identify various options and to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

Third, help the other person identify the best option by asking more questions, for example, "I wonder what you/your company could have done differently?"* With this type of question, you ask the other person to evaluate causes and effects and develop solutions. These solutions will generally be more practical, more effective, and more acceptable than any you could provide.

Give advice when people want advice, and fit the advice to the person's needs. Don't be put off if people don't follow your advice. Generally, it is better to provide insights, not prescriptions. It is better to guide people and help them make their own decisions. Of course, if you are the other person's manager, you have the final say. However, it is still more effective for you to help your reports develop their own solutions.

*The "I wonder" formulation comes from a recent article in Web MD, "How to Talk to Your Teenager"

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Copyright © 3/17 Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.


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