How to Give Great Advice

Four tips to help you offer genuinely helpful advice that leads to good decisions.

learn more about Nadia Goodman

By Nadia Goodman • Aug 8, 2013 Originally published Aug 8, 2013

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

How many times have you offered advice only to watch that person make the opposite choice? The way we usually give advice -- by imposing our own opinion -- is often ineffective, and even harmful.

"Advice is not interpreted in a vacuum," says Reeshad Dalal, a psychologist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., who studies effective decisions and advice. "Rather, advice comes freighted with implications regarding power and autonomy."

Knowing how to give helpful advice, especially when you're the boss, can improve your working relationships and lead to better business decisions.

Try these four tips to become an expert advisor that others respect and trust:

1. Only give advice when asked.
Most of us give advice automatically when someone shares a problem, but our good intentions can backfire. "Decision-makers perceive unsolicited advice as intrusive and as implied criticism," Dalal says. "It's a threat to their autonomy."

Unsolicited advice sends a message that you're jumping in because they can't handle the problem. It leaves them feeling less competent and capable, undermining their ability to handle the situation themselves. To ensure that your advice is more helpful than harmful, only share it if you're explicitly asked. Otherwise, just listen and empathize.

2. Offer information about the options.
When giving advice, people with more experience often make the mistake of assuming that they know best. "While you may have greater expertise on the topic as a whole, the decision-maker may have greater expertise about the specific decision to be made," Dalal says.

To offer expertise in a way that's truly helpful, use it to inform the person about the decision at hand. Tell them what you know about their options, possibly offering a recommendation, then let them use that information to make a sound decision.

Related: How to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills and Make Better Business Decisions

3. Help think through the problem.
Traditional advice (of the you-should-do-this variety) might persuade someone to agree with you, but it does very little to help them learn and grow. "Sometimes, having a 'good impact' involves deliberately opting not to persuade," Dalal says.

Instead of imposing your opinion, guide them through the process you might use to reach a conclusion. Ask the questions you would ask yourself, and give them an opportunity to talk through the options with you. That approach will help build problem-solving skills that translate to future dilemmas.

4. Express confidence in their judgment.
When someone is facing a dilemma, they need self-confidence to trust their intuition and make an informed choice. "It helps to offer emotional support in addition to advice," Dalal says. "People appreciate both."

If someone comes to you for advice, let them know that you're here to help but you trust them to make an intelligent decision. Your confidence may be all the advice they need.

Related: What It Takes to Be a Boss Every Employee Loves

Nadia Goodman

Nadia Goodman is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY. She is a former editor at YouBeauty.com, where she wrote about the psychology of health and beauty. She earned a B.A. in English from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. Visit her website, nadiagoodman.com.

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