How To Offer Advice

When someone asks your opinion, do you know how to respond without sounding like a know-it-all or offending the person with honesty?

Advice is one of those free gifts that we keep trying to give away. While some folks prefer not accepting it, others actually may ask on occasion. When they do, how should you respond? Here are a few ideas that may prove helpful:

1. Be a good listener. You can't fully respond in an appropriate manner until you understand the nature of the problem. Don't cut the person short, and don't jump in with a quick fix. Give the speaker time to carefully explain the dilemma. Ask questions for clarification if needed. When the person stops speaking, ask what he or she would like from you. It may be advice, or it could be something else, like a comforting shoulder to cry on or the opportunity of merely venting to someone who will listen. If your advice isn't asked for, don't give it.

2. Protect confidentiality. Even if your friend or family member speaks openly of a delicate matter and seeks your counsel, gently lead him or her to a quiet area where no one can overhear. Someone who is distrait may not realize the impact of his or her words on others, so be careful about what you listen to, and where. When the two of you cannot be overheard, encourage the speaker to share his heart or mind, and be prepared to respond in kind.

3. Avoid delicate issues. Marital problems, financial issues, medical concerns, or other areas where you lack true expertise may better be left to those who can wholly address them. A general viewpoint or suggestion may be appropriate; for example, when your sister describes physical symptoms and asks if she should call the doctor for an appointment. But don't try to diagnose something or offer a treatment unless you really understand the issues and can offer an expert opinion. If the situation is emotionally volatile or physically dangerous, as in the case of domestic violence, direct the person to an agency or professional counselor where she can receive adequate help. Know your limits and stick to them.

4. Don't be forceful. No matter how opinionated you are, remember that your view is just one among the potential of many. Clearly, objectively, and gently offer your opinion for whatever it's worth, but don't insist that the person follow your advice or get angry if she doesn't. Understand that some folks need to let off steam or may decide to collect several opinions before taking action.

5. Follow up if necessary. If you can tell that the person is truly stressed or emotionally confused, encourage him or her to seek professional help. In the meantime you may want to direct him to your supervisor at work or a pastor in the community. Then perhaps clandestinely follow up later to make sure the person received the needed help or guidance. You may even want to ask the person, "How are you doing?" to show your concern and to help that person not feel brushed off.

Giving advice can be touchy. Follow guidelines like these to ensure that you don't step on someone's toes or inadvertently point that person in the wrong direction.

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