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How to Give Advice

“I learned…” the confident gentleman on my left said at a social gathering on Sunday.

What he said next was a critical communication skill.

The couples were sharing some familiar marital pet peeves – and lessons learned – with chuckles that were partly good humor and partly frustration.

“I learned that when I see something and want to give advice, it’s better to simply notice it, but not say anything in the moment,” he said. The wife quickly added that she and her husband had many arguments on the golf course over the past year because he wanted to tell her what to do even as she was executing her swing.

A husband chimed in that his wife tells him what to do even in her sleep. Everyone laughed as he recounted an incident where she told him at 3 a.m. that he shouldn’t put his red underwear in the wash with her light-colored clothes.

But the message was consistent: No one wanted unsolicited advice without some important elements present.

As the conversation continued, the wise sage at the party added that he now waits and later asks his wife, “May I share feedback on (insert topic)?”

Others added their learned experiences:

  • “Yes, and I learned not to say ‘What you need to do is…’”

  • “A therapist friend told me to ‘use curiosity’ rather than telling someone something outright.” (This brought on more laughter as people imagined using curiosity with their spouses when they felt annoyed.) “For example, ‘I’m curious about how you spoke to our daughter’ rather than ‘Don’t talk to our daughter like that!”

  • “My manager will ping me and ask if I have time to chat about something she has on her mind. I know when I hear ‘on her mind’ that I’m going to get feedback, but at least I have some control over the timing of when I receive it!”

  • “I hate when the advice is something I already know I messed up on.”

I pondered what I was hearing and came to the following 4 P’s for successful feedback:

1. Perceive – Notice the strong urge inside of you to give advice. This may feel like an anxious compulsion to speak.

2. Pause – Consider your timing. Is this the right time to give feedback? Is it the right time for the receiver?

3. Position – Have you earned the right to give the feedback to the individual? If they do not know you or trust you, the answer is generally “no.”

4. Permission – Ask if the time is right and if you may give the feedback.

Who would have thought that advice giving would be so complex? Yet it is. Take heed of the 4 P’s before you help!

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