How to Give Anyone the Best Possible Advice?

Has anyone ever asked you for advice? Or maybe when you were talking to a friend or your spouse or your acquaintance, you realized that the other person needed your help. Then you advised the other person about what he or she should be doing.

The point is: almost all of us have given some advice or the other at least once in our life.

The question that then pops up is: If anyone comes to you asking for advice or if you sense that someone would benefit from your advice, how can you give the best advice?

This question can be answered, if we first figure out what advice is "best advice" in the first place.

Rabbits advising each other

(Src MS Office) Good advice makes both the giver and the receiver feel awesome

What is "The Best Advice"?

Here's my definition of the best advice:

"The best advice is advice that really helps the other person in a significant way."

Simple.

Let us say a friend asks you where he should invest his stocks. Or let us say he shares with you that he is very confused about his life. In either case, the best advice is THAT advice which actually helps the friend significantly. If you advise the other person and his life is not affected in any way whatsoever, then well, that advice is useless, isn't it?

The next question therefore is: How to give good advice? How to advise someone so that he or she is helped significantly by what you say?

How to Give the Best Advice?

During the last 6-7 years, I have advised many people. And I am sure you have too. If you are good at anything at all, you will be asked for advice. If you have a job, people might ask you how to get a job. If you have cracked an exam like this one, people might ask you how to crack it.

Initially, I used to advise people but the advice was not helpful. I used to tell people: here's what I think you should do. And while the person would nod his head and it would seem like he was getting it, my advice would make very little practical difference in his life.

After many years however, I have learnt some important things with respect to giving advice so that it genuinely helps the other person. Here are my steps for giving advice:

Step 1 - Understand the Exact Problem

First, ask the person to tell you everything about what is troubling him or her. Listen to the other person intently. Ask the person questions about his or her problem. Generally, when the other person is talking, a solution crops up in our mind. At this stage, we are all tempted to interrupt the other person and tell him or her what we think. Resist that temptation, shut up and listen. That urge to interrupt and talk that we feel comes from our desire to "talk and say something significant". It does not come from a desire to truly help the other person because we have not even listened to the other person completely!

Therefore, the first step is to genuinely listen to the other person. Forget about giving any advice right now and only focus on understanding what the other person is saying. If you can't understand something, then ask questions. Don't interrupt.

Sometimes, people asking for advice don't express their problem clearly. In such cases, ask lots of questions to really understand what core problem is. If you don't understand the problem, all your advice will be futile. For example, after I had cleared IITJEE, one of my mother's friends asked me to help her daughter clear the exam. In such a situation, a simple question I could have asked was:

What problems is your daughter facing as she studies?

Maybe, then the mother would have opened up and told me that her daughter was not feeling like studying at all. Or she could have said, "she studies all the time but she is not scoring marks at all." Or she could have said, "she is burdened with a lot of homework and feels very tired."

In each case, the advice I would give would be different. However, if I did not ask her any questions, but simply started off with my own advice like "hard work is what is required to clear IITJEE or study from these books or study for 8 hours etc.", then clearly that advice wouldn't be of much help to her. The first step therefore is to clearly understand the problem.

Step 2 - Make Sure You Have REALLY Understood the Problem

Once the person has expressed everything in his heart, he or she will stop talking. Even at this stage, don't start advising right away. Make sure that you really understand what the problem is. Ask yourself - "have I really understood what the problem is?"

For example, take that case of the mother who wanted to ask me about the IITJEE preparation of her daughter. Let us say I ask her about the problems her daughter is facing and she tells me - "she feels very burdened and drained with so much of work."

In that case, I will be very tempted to say, "Ah, I felt the same way! Here's what she can do. After every study session, she can meditate for 2 minutes. She can also drink a glass of water after studying for some time. That'll help! It really helped me!"

But if I resist this temptation and ask "tell me more, what is her day's schedule like?", I will be able to give even better advice. The mother might then say, "Well, she wakes up very late - around 9:30 AM. She leaves for college by 10 and comes home by 4 PM. Then she rushes to her coaching class which finishes by 8:30 PM. "

I can then ask her "how does she go to her coaching class?" The point is: unless I really understand what the girl is going through, I won't know what is really troubling her.

I know that asking so many questions and understanding the problem thoroughly takes up a lot of time. You may feel - I don't want to spend so much time advising. Well, great, but then don't expect your advice to be useful. Either advise after really understanding what the other person is going through or accept that your superficial advice won't help the other person. There's no point cheating yourself and giving superficial advice while also thinking it will help the other person.

So yes, the second step is a repetition of the first: make sure you have really understood the problem and ask questions if you haven't.

Step 3 - Ask: Do You Really Want to Find a Solution to This? (Bypass this step if the other person is clearly asking you for advice AND really wants a solution).

The answer to this question can be very interesting. Sometimes, people know exactly what they should be doing but they just want to share or vent out. They do not want a solution at all. At such times, offering a solution is IMMEDIATELY met with resistance and any advice is not helpful.

Long ago, a certain co-worker told me why the boss was horrid and how he was horrid. Now clearly, this co-worker knew that if the boss was really so horrid, a good solution would be to quit the job and take up another one! All he wanted was to vent out his feelings. I kept offering him solutions but he kept rejecting them and brought himself back to criticizing the boss. That's when I learnt :"This person does not want a solution at all!"

If you figure out that the other person does not even want a solution, well, what's the point in advising? Maybe he or she (well OK she :P ) just wants to share what happened without wanting any opinions on it. Great. Don't force your opinion in such a case!

If the person shows signs that say "Yup, I am really looking for a solution", then proceed to the next step.

Step 4 - Ask: What Do You Think Is the Solution?

I feel 80% of the time, the other person ALREADY knows the solution! The other person however is generally not SURE of the solution or is confused about a certain aspect of it and that is the reason he is sharing the problem with you.

For example, let's bring that same mother who was talking about her daughter back into the picture. Maybe the mother or the daughter really knew that getting the daughter a vehicle was the solution to the problem because that would save time in commuting. But maybe, though this thought about a vehicle was there in her sub-conscious mind, she didn't even acknowledge it until now when I asked her what she thought was the solution. When I ask her what she thinks is the solution, she may suddenly say - "this, this and this is the solution."

The best solution to anyone's problem can obviously be given by the person himself since he knows himself more than anyone else. However, people generally don't articulate things to themselves very clearly and so when you help them articulate things, the solution strikes them right away!

If the other person has already found his own solution, great! If he is still confused then….

Step 5 - Tell Him Honestly What You Think the Problem is and THEN What You Think the Solution Is

The person who has a problem always wants to make sure (in his heart) that you have really understood his problem. "Has he really understood my problem or is he analyzing it superficially?" - all of us fear this deep down and that is why we are not very receptive to all the advice that comes our way. So, restate exactly what you have understood about the problem to the other person. Then ask - I think this is the problem, isn't it?

Then, if the person approves, go ahead and tell him your honest opinion. Tell him exactly how you think the problem can be solved. NOW, pour your heart out.

Sometimes, after really understanding the core problem of the other person, we are clueless about the solution. We may ourselves not know what to do. Giving superficial advice is easy and therefore, when doing that, we seem to have solutions to every problem. But if we make the effort to really understand the other person's problem, we may feel blank sometimes. That happens to me often. The best thing to do at such a juncture is to tell your friend or the person asking for advice that you too honestly do NOT know what to do. Being honest is better than giving advice that is anyway useless because it is superficial.

"I don't know " is also an option. Your friend or the other person will appreciate your honestly and the time you took to listen to the problem and understand it. Despite you not giving him advice, he will still ask you for advice the next time and respect your opinion because of your honesty. He will know this: "Whatever it is, this person will tell me things truthfully, so he will not misguide me."

Final Words

Simply put - good advice is honest, it comes after you've really understood and listened to the other person and has an "I don't know" option too.

Here are the steps in a few lines: First listen to the other person. Ask questions to understand better. Ask if the other person would really want a solution. If yes, then ask him what the solution according to him is. Then tell him what you think honestly.

Happy advising to you! Of course even I am still learning about advising. If I learn something more, I'll definitely share. :)

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