Thursday, August 22, 2013

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 gift!

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 resentment.

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.

Clearly 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.

Make 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.”

Ask 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.

State 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 resistance.

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 competence.

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 (facebook/ChipRBell).


Danielle said...

As someone attempting to move into a coaching role, I found this article very helpful. I tend to fall into Gore Vidal's thought process- I have the right answer! Listen to me! and don't always take the time to think about how it will be received. Thanks so much!

Danielle Elizabeth Aaronson

Anonymous said...

If the order is crucial, why do we begin our advice session first and then two steps later ask permission to give the advice we've already started to give?

I really do want to understand this.