Stop Giving Advice. Start Asking Questions.

I am going to make a generalization and say none of us want to see our friends, family, or co-workers in distress. Often, our solution is to give advice.

The Problem With Giving Advice.

  1. We tend to advise based on our own personal beliefs and experiences. Regardless of our good intentions, our input is biased, leaving our insight narrow. Depending on the level of trust you have established with your advisee, you may deter or persuade someone to act in a way that is not in their best interest.

  2. Chances are, we aren't providing new insight. Do you feel like you are repeatedly giving the same advice, yet this individual continues to come back searching for a solution to the same problem? More than likely, you aren't the only one who has given the same advice. What this often means is, you have not said what they want to hear. We all want to feel validated. If you are providing action plans which forces them to get out of their comfort zone, take risks, or address their ego, they may not be ready to do what is necessary to move beyond the problem. Until they are ready to do what it takes, you are wasting your breath, time, and energy.

  3. We may become burnt out and discouraged if they do not act on our advice, or take it personal, jeopardizing our relationship. It is not your responsibility to "fix" someone else. It is also impossible. If you continue to expend your time and energy to a lost cause, it is no one's fault but your own; regardless of your good intentions. I understand it is not easy to see someone you care about in distress, however, this is not your problem to bare. Allowing yourself to get wrapped up in someone else's problems can cause you to feel used, disrespected, and underappreciated if they do not change for the better. If you begin to notice negative feelings arise, address it with full ownership and in a nonjudgmental way, such as "I feel I have allowed myself to get too involved with _____, I value our relationship, which is why I am relieving myself from further interference in this particular situation." Notice how there are no negative words used in this statement. This is important to convey respect and no judgement.

If you truly want to help someone, allow them to develop their own solution through listening and non-leading questions.

Qualities of a Skillful Listener:

1. They do not bring their own agenda or ego to the conversation. Often times, we do not feel we are bringing our own agenda or ego into the conversation. We just see it as being helpful. Here are some sign to look for when determining if you are bringing your agenda and ego into a conversation:

  • You have inner dialogue while they are talking to you.

  • You feel the urge to interject.

  • You disagree with why they feel the way they feel.

  • You jump in with unsolicited advice.

  • You feel superior.

  • You feel you know better.

  • You find yourself being judgmental.

2. They spend far less than half their time talking. 80/20 Rule (80% listening, 20% talking) It's difficult to fully grasp the point of view of others if you are not spending the majority of the time listening.

3. They ask great questions.

Skillful listeners ask questions to:

  • Ask for clarification. Communicators, can be vague in their delivery due to having a clear picture or message in their mind which doesn't always transfer into words as clearly. Details are easily left unspoken. Instead of making assumptions and filling in the blanks, great listeners are comfortable asking the communicator to clarify. This can be done by summarizing what they've heard and asking for confirmation of accuracy, or just saying they don't quite understand, and ask for clarification.

  • Better understand the communicators point of view. When asking a communicator to elaborate on their situation, it promotes empathy; resulting in less judgement from the listener. The listener can become immersed in the story, eliminating any ego or agenda they may have brought into the conversation.

  • Bring light to the source and/or promote action. By asking clients how they feel about a situation, why they feel that way, what their plan is, how they plan to do something, what have they already done, if they are feeling stuck or what they feel is holding them back... it brings things to light that they may not have thought about before or spur action. You are also allowing them to take control and solve their own problem without judgement. It's very important to make sure the questions you are asking are not leading the communicator in the direction you want them to go.

Leading question (questions to stay away from) can look like:

  • Are you sure that's a good idea?

  • Why would you do xyz?

  • Don't you think xyz would be a better idea?

  • Do you think NAME would approve?

At the end of the day, most of us do not want someone to solve our problems by giving their advice. We want to be heard, understood, and respected. A good listener will know if someone just wants to vent or some insightful questioning is needed.

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