I saw a video recently on how to give advice. It was fantastic and I scribbled the key points down on a scrap of paper. Which was great in that I find that if I write something down I’ve got a better chance of actually remembering it – but I lost the original link despite my best googling, and searching my history.
So here are the points:
- Be Present
- Acknowledge their emotional state
- Ask questions
- Offer perspective, opinion and alternatives (don’t present just a single solution)
- Give a confident straight forward answer
A list like that is hardly fantastic, so I’ll do my best to elaborate, if only to further cement the process in my own mind because I know I don’t do this well enough.
Being present simply means give the person your full attention. It means listening. Really listening to what the person is saying. If you’re thinking about anything else you’re not being present. If you can’t be present don’t bother trying steps 2-5 as you will come across as just another patronising know-it-all wanker.
When someone comes to me with a problem, my first instinct is to be an patronising know-it-all wanker and go straight to step 5, tell them my perfect solution and then have them lavish admiration on me. However I’ve learned that this isn’t helpful and sends the message “your problem is dumb and so are you”. By being present you are actually earning the right to share your opinion.
It’s also really important not to talk until the other person has finished. Finished doesn’t mean ‘takes a breath’. To gauge this, when the person stops talking I slowly count to 10 in my head before saying anything. If the other person starts talking again before I get to 10, well they obviously aren’t finished. Put a contemplative thinking look on your face when you try this.
Acknowledge their emotional state
Emotions? Toughen up cupcake.
I think this is where guys in particular go wrong. For a guy, having your emotional state acknowledged means some says “mate that really sucks”. For a women you need to use a few more words. Saying “I understand how you feel” doesn’t cut it.
Use phrases like “that must be really frustrating / painful / upsetting” etc or “I can see you’re annoyed / pissed-off / angry”
If you don’t do this you’re likely to be accused of not understanding the problem. Take your time here.
The types of questions you ask shouldn’t be to clarify the problem for you, they should instead help the person with the problem to start to feel out solutions on their own. Use the word ‘why’ liberally. If you do this well, the person will probably come up with their own solution at this point. If the other person doesn’t actually want advice, and just wants to vent, you’ll quickly work it out here.
If you’re doing well, at some point the other person will ask “so what do you think?”. Here is your opportunity to draw on your wealth of worldly experience and present the problem back to them in a new light. Give some alternative possibilities. Allow the other person to mull over possibilities with you. The point of this step is to introduce new possibilities into the mind of the person that might help to formulate a solution.
Give a confident, straight forward answer
It’s highly unlikely you’ll get to step 5 if you’ve done the first 4 steps well. But just in case the other person asks you point blank “so what should I do?” and you’ve covered off the other 4 steps, here’s what you do:
Say something like “From what we’ve discussed, if I was you, I would do …” and keep it brief and on topic. Don’t let yourself get side tracked and don’t turn it into a 15 minute monologue. When you’ve done it right, the other person will know exactly what steps to take and will feel inspired to do so. You will have built up their confidence and they will feel that they can rely on your advice.