The New York Times

How to Give People Advice They'll Be Delighted to Take

A friend recently approached me in distress saying she wasn’t sure if she should dump her boyfriend or not. With wide, wet eyes, she asked what I think she should do. It gave me pause. Of course, I thought she should get rid of the guy, but I didn’t want to put our relationship at risk in case she stayed with him after I shared my opinion. As anyone who has offered guidance knows, giving spectacular advice doesn’t necessarily mean people will take it. Advice is a gift, albeit one bundled with inherent power dynamics. That “I know your situation best and here’s what you should do” attitude is what can make advice-giving so fraught. “Expertise is a tricky thing,” said an associate professor of Nevertheless, it’s understandable to want to help when we see people struggling or in pain. It feels good to give direction. In fact, giving advice increases one’s sense of personal power, according to in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Researchers that determine whether input will be taken to heart. People will go along with advice if it was costly to attain and the task is difficult (think: lawyers interpreting a contract). Advice is also more likely to be taken if the person offering counsel is more experienced and expresses extreme confidence in the quality of the advice (doctors recommending a treatment, for example). Emotion a role, too: Decision makers are more likely to disregard advice if they feel certain about what they’re going to do (staying with a dud boyfriend no matter what) or they’re angry (sending an ill-advised text while fuming). So, where does this leave caring friends and concerned co-workers — those people in our lives who aren’t necessarily experts, but want to help? You can chime in, but it’s crucial to approach the matter with sensitivity and center the person who is looking for assistance. “It may seem obvious, but it’s surprising how often people can overlook the need to consider what the decision maker wants and why,” Dr. Tost said. Here are other things to keep in mind to make sure the advice you give to others will land so you, and the person you’re advising, can feel good about the exchange. It’s easy to confuse being audience to a venting session with being asked to weigh in. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. “It’s almost like people will say to you, ‘I want a strategy,’ and what they really mean is, ‘I want someone to understand,’” said , and author of “” When people approach , author of “,” for advice, he drills down and identifies the exact problem: “What do you want to know specifically that I can help you with?” This way, he won’t overwhelm the person with irrelevant information. Ms. Li suggests repeating back what you heard to be sure you’ve grasped the heart of the issue. Ask what outcome the advice-seeker hopes to see so your ideas align with the person’s desires. Next, inquire about what has been done to address the problem so your suggestions won’t be redundant. People tend to resist when advice is preachy, Ms. Marshall said. Saying, “I’ve been there and here’s what I did,” makes people more receptive. In guiding clients, she also recommends books and tools that might provide additional insight: “I’m not telling them what to do, but I’m offering them a real resource beyond me.” Similarly, Mr. Kleon’s and have the same encouraging energy: “My M.O. is to share things that I’ve learned along the way in the spirit of, ‘This worked for me, maybe it’ll work for you, too.’” Lastly, ask what kind of continued support is needed (if any) and what efforts should be avoided. Would checking in motivate the person, or would it feel overbearing? “There’s only one way to find out,” Ms. Li said. “Ask with an open heart.” Meeting the advice-seeker at this level further establishes the person’s autonomy. And by setting expectations for next steps and approaching the issue as a team, you’re both more likely to come away feeling empowered by the encounter.

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