The Diplomatic Ritual of Giving and Receiving Advice

In the Peanuts comic strip, the character Lucy would regularly set up a mobile office with a sign that read "Advice 5 cents." Asking and being asked for advice is an integral part of our personal and professional lives. It is surprising that we do not assign a higher value to the process or train ourselves in its nuances.

Giving useful and timely recommendations and advice are the foundation of coaching, consulting, leadership, management and parenting. There are right ways and wrong ways to deliver even positive reviews, let alone the evidence of gaps or missteps. Spending some time learning about the process of giving and getting advice is an important element of leadership development.

The whole business of advice is potentially fraught. Offering unsolicited advice can cause others to see one as controlling or a busy-body. Feelings can be hurt, people can feel threatened or violated. Offering advice or an opinion even when asked can also lead to an unfortunate outcome, because the asker may be looking not for an expert or unbiased opinion or guidance but rather, validation. Certainly we've all experienced the uncomfortable feeling when the advice seeker turns testy because the desired response was not given. "Do I look fat in these pants?" Groan...

Keep in mind that well-honed listening skills are essential when one takes on an advisory role. Attention must be paid to the question posed and what may motivate or be at stake for the asker. Diplomacy, self-control, discretion and emotional intelligence are likewise required attributes and behaviors. Ego gratification, a need for control, or other self-serving behaviors have no place in the process. Self-awareness is part of the equation and humility as well, because if one is not qualified to give advice or guidance on a given matter, that must be communicated.

Respecting boundaries is key. The terrain of unsolicited advice is usually best avoided---but that observance presents an ethical dilemma when we witness someone we know and care about slide into near-certain disaster born of poor judgment or timing.

Finally, determining the type of solution one would be wise to recommend to the asker, as well as the amount of follow-up and other post-request involvement should be taken on, calls for both empathy and strategic thinking. How can you be fair to both the asker and yourself? The next time you seek or are sought out for advice, keep what's been mentioned here in mind.

Thanks for reading,

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