How Do You Give Advice?

by Pam Fox Rollin, Executive Coach

Connect with Pam: @PamFR+PamFoxRollin

Welcome to the IdeaShape Newsletter archives! We think these ideas on leadership and life have stood the test of time…let us know if you agree.

This post originally appeared in April 2001.


How do you give advice?

In this Post: The Big Idea; Ideas in Action; Resources; Note from Pam

The Big Idea: How do you give advice?


“I have found the best way to give advice to your children is

to find out what they want and advise them to do it.”

~ Harry S. Truman


That’s just as true for grown-ups, isn’t it? As executives, team leaders, business coaches, or consultants, we’re constantly being asked for advice.  Sometimes, we offer it without making anyone ask!  What if more often we helped people get clear on what they want and encouraged them to go for it?

Ideas in Action:  So, what could you do the next time you’re tempted to give advice?


1. Ask the person what s/he sees.

Choosing what to notice is one of the most powerful decisions we make. Yet, often attention is aimed by habit and old fears. By sharpening awareness of what we do and the results we create, we can  make more useful choices. And often, from awareness itself new behaviors emerge.


2. Offer your own observations.

Ask whether the person you’re talking to would like you to share with them what you see. Perhaps you’ll discover that each of you focuses on different aspects of the situation. Just learning where you place your attention and what you notice may give the person some additional perspective on their choices.


3. Help them become clearer on what they want.

Have you ever had the experience of someone being with you completely, listening to your intentions, and inviting you to speak ever more fully and precisely about what you want to create in this life?  What a tremendous gift!


4. Help them explore their options.

Sometimes our own minds seem like a pretty tiny space to spread out big issues, gain perspective, and re-chart our course. In conversation, you can lay out a bigger work table, hold up parts of their mental map for a closer look, and consider together the risks and rewards of potential actions.


5.  Or you could just stay silent and see what comes up!



I enormously enjoy these two books on how to give advice: the first has practical and wise answers, the second raises questions for which there are no ready solutions.


“The Trusted Advisor” by David H, Maister, Charles H. Green, Robert M. Galford (2000)A tremendously practical book on being worthy of trust. It’s aimed at consultants, but useful to anyone often asked for counsel, including friends, parents, and managers.


The Flawless Consulting Fieldbook and Companion : A Guide Understanding Your ExpertiseFrom the introduction to Part 2: The Complexity of Advice: “There is nobility in the willingness to consult. It is an offer of service, help, even love. The fundamental question, then, is: ‘When is help helpful?’…too often it is not.  There are times when the help becomes interference, defended against, a disappointment on both sides…Our task is to increase our awareness, pay closer attention to purpose, and see clearly the effects of our actions.”


Note from Pam

I love giving advice. It’s that delight in sharing what I’ve learned. Maybe somehow the act of giving advice validates the effort I expended to learn. Yet, I’m endlessly impressed with how often advice is beside the point!


“I intended to give you some advice but now I remember how much
is left over from last year unused.”

~ George Harris

Each of us lives with choice amid paradox. Who’s to say how to navigate? Perhaps at best I can be with the other person as they explore the terrain, at times inviting them to notice the vistas and crevasses ahead, at times finding strength in the journey itself. It is my constant challenge — and joy — to stay with whatever path the person is exploring and help them deepen their own reflection.


If you’d like to get in touch about any of this, please do. I’d love to hear your thoughts.




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About Pam Fox Rollin

Pam Fox Rollin coaches executives and high potentials especially in technology, health care, biotech, and professional services. Pam specializes in working with leaders stepping up from being rock stars in their functional areas to more strategic senior roles. She also guides the top teams of public, private, and fast-growth global companies to lead together more effectively.

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