Before You Give Advice…Ask Permission

Recently I have gone through a few big, personal changes, and people have felt the need to start dispensing advice and suggestions without asking me what I have done, where I stand, if I want advice. I have found myself becoming annoyed at times. I have to remind myself that they mean well.  And then I thought, in the past, have I done this to people?

I’m reposting below the article I wrote last year on giving feedback/advice because I feel it may help people during a time of change for any of us at any given time.

Nowadays, people have access to a lot of information and often like to share that information with others.  Sometimes people think they know more than they do or even feel they are an expert at something because they have accessed that information. Some people feel they are experts because they simply feel they know what’s best.  I believe that most people have other people’s best interests at heart.  I also believe that people honestly want to help others.  Sometimes people don’t want your help or are not ready to hear what you have to say.

When I am working with coaching clients, we have an agreement up front that I can give them feedback on what I am hearing.  Even with the agreement, I still say, “Do you mind if I tell you what I am hearing?” Or, “May I give you some feedback about what I’m hearing?”  I was meeting with a manager when I was in corporate America.  She was sharing her concerns about a situation she was experiencing.  I asked her if I could give her some feedback based on what I was hearing.  She said, “No, I’m not ready to hear anything right now. I just need to vent.”  I said, “Okay” and continued to listen.  She came back later and asked me what I had to say.

Sometimes people start dispensing recommendations on what to do or how to handle a particular situation without even asking you what you have already done.  This can be exasperating to the listener.  It can also feel like they are not given credit for figuring out things on their own.  “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.”  Robert Frost

When I am interacting with people who are not my clients, I’ll ask permission to ask a question or to give feedback.  Often I’ll say, “May I ask you a question?”

Suggestions for Giving Advice:

  • Listen to understand the situation. (“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Stephen Covey)
  • What has the person done already if possible action is needed?
  • Summarize/acknowledge what you are hearing.
  • If you feel you have information to share, ask the person if they mind if you share some information with them. Honor their response if they say no and don’t take it personally. They may not be ready to hear it, and it is a good thing that they are being honest with you, rather than you talking and they are not listening or hearing the information.

Sometimes people just need to vent and need a good listener.  Sometimes they need additional information.  By listening and asking if they would like you to share some information with them, the situation can be beneficial for both parties.

“Before you give advice, that is to say advice which you have not been asked to give, it is well to put to yourself two questions—namely, what is your motive for giving it? And what is it likely to be worth? If these questions were always asked, and honestly answered, there would be less advice given.” John William Mackail, “On Giving Advice”

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