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Give advice that counts

Plant seeds without preaching or pontificating

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in Leaders & Managers

You have the knowledge. Your employees can benefit from it. Now comes the tricky task of communicating so that your advice makes a difference.

At its worst, giving advice can turn into an unwelcome lecture. The I-would-do-this-if-I-were-you approach can backfire if someone isn’t ready or willing to listen. But when handled with grace and sensitivity, your insights can fall upon receptive and appreciative ears. Here’s how:

Check your timing. Give advice only when the other person appears ready to pay attention. If you’re dealing with an agitated or distracted employee, hold off on problem-solving suggestions until they settle down. You can tell they’re ready by asking an exploratory question, such as, “Would you like to look at some possible solutions?”

State advice directly. Begin sentences with, “My advice to you is...” or “You may want to consider...” Avoid dropping vague or roundabout hints. Above all, don’t disguise your advice in a series of questions (“Wouldn’t you be better off if...?”). That seemingly harmless approach can trigger defensiveness because many people see through such questions—they know what you really want to do is tell them how to act. So you might as well come right out and say it.

Confirm a goal. Establish a clear objective before giving your comments. That way, you can propose your advice as a means of helping the employee attain her goal. If you skip this step, your ideas may fall flat because the listener is preoccupied with solving a different problem.

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