5 Tips for Giving Good Advice

There’s a right way and a wrong way—master the distinction.

Giving advice is tricky—it’s easy to veer into condescension or judginess. Follow these steps to ensure your advice is well received and effective.

5 Tips for Giving Good Advice

The Skill Set: How to Give Advice

1. Check your motives

The only way your advice will be well received is if your intention is purely to help the other person, and not to pass judgment or point out their shortcomings. “If you have a strong relationship with the person, you genuinely care about them and you want to add value to them, then there’s a good chance they’ll listen to your advice,” says leadership coach and author John Maxwell. “When I need to give constructive criticism, I remind myself that I’m no better than any other person; I may have more experience, opportunities or talents—or I may not—but those things only put me in a good place to lend a hand and help somebody else climb, just as others have done for me in the past.” 

2. Follow the golden rule

“How would you want someone to give you advice?” asks acclaimed business author and speaker Al Pittampalli. “That's not a rhetorical question—actually think about it. It's important you remember what it feels like to be on the receiving end of advice to give it effectively.” Consider how you’d like to be treated if someone were to give you advice, and act accordingly. 

3. Lead with a question

“The problem with unsolicited advice is that people usually ignore it,” says Dr. Samantha Boardman, a psychiatrist and the founder of Positive Prescription. “Instead of diving in with your own recommendation, ask the person a question.” Citing a study spanning 40 years of research, Samantha says that asking people about how or why they do certain things influences whether or not they’ll do that way again in the future. The “question-behavior effect” is powerful—it has been shown to last more than six months after the initial conversation. For example, if you ask, “Will you exercise?” instead of saying, “You should exercise today,” the other person is far more likely to exercise. “If you want someone to change, don’t bother dispensing well-meaning advice. Instead, help the person generate their own reasons to change by asking questions about their behavior.” 

4. Sandwich advice between genuinely positive comments

“When I need to give constructive criticism, I think of it like a sandwich,” says John. “The advice is the meat, but the bread (AKA the positive comments) makes it easier to consume.” John looks for what the person is doing right and acknowledges it first—he won’t even start the process unless he has something genuinely good to say—then he ends by casting vision for the person’s future success, saying what he’s willing to do to help him or her achieve it. 

5. Make sure you’re the right person to give advice

Samantha references the famous Oscar Wilde quote, “We all admire the wisdom of those who come to us for advice.” That said, she advises making sure you’re the most qualified person to be dispensing it on a given topic before moving forward. “In order to be a credible source in the topic you’re trying to give advice on, you need to have modeled the behavior you want to address,” says John. If you don’t feel qualified to answer a question or provide advice, suggest someone who might be better equipped.


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Images courtesy of Ivanka Trump. Photographer: Kenneth Grzymala