How to Give Advice

Guest post from Chip Bell:

“There is no human problem which could not be
solved,” wrote novelist Gore Vidal, “if people would simply do as I advise.”
Mentors have a similar challenge. Recall the last time someone said, “Let me
give you a little advice!” No doubt it quickly put you into a defensive
posture.  And, it was even labeled a

Advice giving works only in the
context of learning—that is, when you are offering advice because you believe
that the protégé’s performance will be improved if his knowledge or skill is
enhanced. This is important, because for advice giving truly to work, you must
be ready for the protégé to choose not
to take your advice. If the protégé has no real choice about honoring your
advice, then you should simply give a directive and be done with it. Couching
your requirement as advice is manipulative and will only foster distrust and

There are four steps for making your
advice giving more powerful and more productive. Pay attention to the sequence;
it is crucial to your success.

State the Performance Problem or Learning Goal.

Begin your advice giving by letting the protégé know the focus or intent
of your mentoring. For advice giving to work, you must be very specific and
clear in your statement. Ambiguity clouds the conversation and risks leaving
the protégé more confused than enlightened.
Stating the focus—an important coaching technique in general—helps sort
out the form and content of the advice.

Sure You Agree on the Focus.
  Make sure the protégé is as eager to improve
as you are to see him improve. You may learn that the protégé has already
determined what to do and has little need for your advice. Your goal is to hear
the protégé say something like, “Yes, I’ve been concerned about that as well.”
As Abraham Lincoln said, “A person convinced against his will is of the same
opinion still.”

Permission to Give Advice
.  Your goal at this point is twofold: (1) to
communicate advice without eliciting protégé resistance and (2) to keep
ownership of the challenge with the protégé. This does not mean asking, “May I
have your permission to . . .?” Rather, you might say, “I have some
ideas on how you might improve if that would be helpful to you.” Your goal is
to communicate in a way that minimizes the protégé’s perceiving he or she is
being controlled or coerced.

Your Advice in First Person Singular.
  Phrases like “you ought to” quickly raise
resistance! By keeping your advice in the first-person singular—“what I found helpful” or “what worked for me”—helps eliminate the shoulds and
ought-tos. The protégé will hear such advice unscreened by defensiveness or

Giving advice is like playing pinball:
Only by pushing and pulling can you encourage the ball to go in a new direction
and increase your score. But too much pushing and pulling can cause a tilt and
stop the game. Effective mentors recognize the challenge of “teaching so it
stays taught” and meet that challenge by coupling their wisdom with
sensitivity. They keep the ball in play as long as they can by judicious application
of pushes and pulls, nudges and bumps, building the score—the protégé’s

About Chip Bell: Chip R. Bell is the author of several
best-selling books.  His newest book (with Marshall Goldsmith) is the
award winning, international best-selling Managers
as Mentors: Building Partnerships for Learning.

Managers as Mentors is available on You
can connect with Chip through his 
website or via Twitter (@ChipRBell) or
Facebook (