4 Steps to Take Before Offering Advice

If you’ve ever wondered if there’s a right way to offer someone advice, here’s some, well, advice: Try active listening.

Author: Magdalina Atanassova       

a woman and a man talking in a business setting

A four-step advice protocol can help you create space for others to figure things out on their own.

As part of a session led by author and coaching expert Michael Bungay Stanier, during IAPCO’s Annual Meeting and General Assembly 2020, I and my fellow participants were asked to take part in an exercise. We paired up with one another, and one person was asked to share a work issue they were trying to resolve, while the other was instructed to simply listen and then ask this simple question: And what else? It seemed silly at first, but it ended up being one of the hardest things I’ve done.

As soon as the other person began sharing, I was already thinking of what I’d say, the wonderful advice I had to give, and empathetic ways to interrupt the thought process of the other person and insert my own ideas. This exercise showed me a few things: First, how little I tend to listen. Second, how strong my Advice Monster — what Bungay Stanier calls the urge to give unsolicited advice — is. But mostly, I saw for myself how effective listening transforms both the speaker and listener: The speaker feels heard, and the listener can sit back and observe them figuring things out for themselves. (Convene Deputy Editor Barbara Palmer interviewed Bungay Stanier for our January-February issue.)

Being silent and responding with that single question doesn’t work in all business or personal situations, but there is an advice-giving protocol that can help tame our Advice Monster. In his recent “Stop Giving Advice” blog post, serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist Shane Mac shares the set of rules developed by psychologist, author, and consultant Ted Klontz, who is a professor at Creighton University.

Mac outlines Klontz’s four steps:

  1. Tell me what you’ve already tried. Listen.
  2. Tell me what you thought about trying but haven’t done yet. Listen.
  3. Tell me what other people have done or said. Listen.
  4. I wonder what you would tell me if the situation were reversed, and you were sitting where I am. Listen.

“Eighty-five percent of the time,” Mac writes, “the conversation ends here. The irony is that many times, the person will say to me at the end, ‘Thanks for the advice.’ When they really just talked to themselves. But I created the space for them to do that.” That’s exactly what happened to me and my partner in that session led by Bungay Stanier.

If, after following those four steps, the person seeking your counsel is still stuck, Mac said, “you’ve prepared them to be open to real advice. They have now reminded themselves that they actually don’t know.”

And that may be the only right time to tap into your Advice Monster.

Magdalina Atanassova is digital media editor of Convene.

Become a Member

Get premium access to provocative executive-level education, face-to-face networking and business intelligence.