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Home / Articles / Taking Care of You / Be a Better Advice-Giver

Be a Better Advice-Giver

Sometimes, listening is better than instructing

  • By
  • May 13, 2015
Be a Better Advice-Giver

When a friend or loved one confides in you that they’re being abused by an intimate partner, your gut instinct is probably to advise them to leave—sooner, rather than later. But most domestic violence experts would agree that this isn’t always the best go-to. Leaving an abusive partner can be complicated, tricky and often times, very dangerous. Or, a person may not feel ready to leave their partner—some part of them may believe there’s still hope for change. They may be in love. Or, they may be trapped financially.

So, what’s the best way to give someone advice in a way that will resonate? We consulted businessman, public speaker and professional advice-giver, Jeremey Donovan, author of How to Deliver a TED Talk.

DomesticShelters: Whether it’s about leaving an abusive partner or something else entirely, what’s the best way to give someone advice without alienating them?

Donovan: “It may sound a little obvious, but listening is the best way to give somebody advice. I strive to understand not only the direct question being asked, but also the subtext of what the person is really thinking about. Then, before I give any advice, I ask myself whether I am qualified to do so. You can be qualified in one of two ways: First, you might have successfully navigated through the situation the person is asking about. Or, even if you have not been through it, you have studied the topic deeply and guided other people through.

“If you are not qualified, then the best gift you can give somebody is to refer them to someone who is. If you are qualified, then upgrade the Golden Rule to the Platinum Rule. Rather than 'advise unto others as you would have them advise unto you,' you should 'advise unto others as they would have advised unto themselves.' The subtle but important difference is that the best advice considers their circumstances and needs, not yours.

“Often, people just need a sounding board since they are 'out-loud' thinkers. I'm that way. I like to have a partner who is mostly in listen mode when I'm working through an issue.”

DS: What’s the ideal way to advise someone to take a specific action?

Donovan: “This is a hard question to answer since I believe people will grasp advice and act on it only when they are ready. If they are not, then there is not much you can do. Nonetheless, when communicating, I strive to understand where people sit on the rational-emotional decision making spectrum in the context of a given issue. Once I do that, I tune the right order and mix of logic and empathy.”

DS: What if you want to inspire people with your words—how do you do that?

Donovan: I think the best way to inspire people is to share a personal story. The framework I use is called the Pixar Pitch. It is a standard three-act structure with two parts per act. Act 1, Part 1 is, 'Once upon a time and every day...'. Act 1, Part 2 is 'Until one day...'. Act 2, Part 1 is, 'And because of that...'. Act 2, Part 2 is, 'Until finally...'. Act 3, Part 1 is, ‘And after that...'. Act 3, Part 2 is, 'And the moral of the story is...'. When you tell a story, people project the story onto their own lives. It is up to them as to whether or not the story resonates.