The art of giving advice
"You've got to know when to hold 'em Know when to fold 'em Know when to walk away And know when to run..."
Don Schlitz (released by Kenny Rogers, 1978)
I've been thinking a lot lately about 'advice'. With my ongoing boat renovation project I am asking for a lot of it. I'm also receiving a lot of the unsolicited type. Some of this advice I find useful, some not, and then there's the contradictions and dismissal of the advice of others to contend with.
Now not all advice can be put as pithily or tunefully as Kenny's Gambler (depending I guess on where you sit on country music) but what is the essence of giving 'good advice' like? I talk and, yes 'advise' a lot about being generous to others with our knowledge (along with skills, energy, time). But when and how should we consider the difference between meaningfully generous advice and simply spewing out potentially related information, waiting for something to stick?
Based on recent experiences, and thinking about why there is one person I continually return to for answers I think success in the giving of advice has something to do with the following elements:
1. All giving, starts with listening
You can only know when you might have advice to give if you have listened to someone, and understood their individual challenge or concern. I'm not of the view that advice should only be forthcoming if solicited - the person may not ask if they are unaware you have an experience to share. But it should come as a result of having heard what someone is faced with.
2. Make it relevant and specific
Because listening makes the advice the best it can be for that individual. And the best is relevant and specific, not generally about the subject area. I've started to ask people giving me a lot of detailed advice, "what out of all of that is your 1 top tip, the essential thing?" When I get realms of advice I can't either remember or act on it all - and see below, I am not a perfectionist so it's helpful to know what the '1 thing' is that I should, in your view, do.
There is only one possible way to explain the importance of getting the timing right. The age-old example of vocalising vociferously to a friend the faults of their girlfriend/ boyfriend, after they have broken up with them. Not only can this in no way be classified as advice (after the fact), it is always going to result in you being persona non grata when they get back together the following week. Think about timing, if it's too late then it's too late!
4. Understand your starting point
Ideally you need to understand why you have advice to give in this area, and potentially communicate that context to the other person. Are you speaking from personal experience? Or relating something you learnt about from others? Are you massively passionate about the subject? Do you have sufficient perspective to be helpful? All of these are great reasons to offer advice and it may be helpful to contextualise for the person receiving it. I realised at some point that I had received quite a lot of advice from a perfectionist for something I simply did not have sufficient time to achieve a similar result with, it may have been helpful if I'd understood this sooner.
5. It's an offer not a diktat
Advice is only ever your perspective, it's not a case of being 'right'. Good advice for me includes phrases like, "something that has worked for me is.....", "I've often wondered if doing it this way would bring a good result". And because it's an offer, it can be dismissed or turned down, and we need to be okay with that. Because I don't take your advice is not a reflection of you, or a judgement on the advice's suitability, it's me acting as I need to at this point in time.
7. Advice is a bit like guerilla gardening
Giving advice is sowing a seed, and it's great to nurture the growth and development of that seed. But rather than working in your own garden, you've thrown out some seeds into a wild space. To what extent they thrive is out of your control. So check back on your advice, show interest in what has worked, gather feedback that might change your advice in future and remain curious about the results but remember, it's ultimately not about you!