I enjoy telling people what to do. Sometimes they listen.
If you are in the advice-giving business, or if you are an especially opinionated person, you know it’s much better to offer advice or counsel to others rather than telling them what to do. “Advice” sounds better. “Counsel” sounds even better than that, especially in my world.
To offer counsel rings of something less negotiable. Counsel is filled with wisdom and may even touch the Holy. I don’t throw the word counsel around easily. I seldom offer counsel because usually only the people who ask for an opinion actually listen to it.
And as much as I enjoy telling people what to do, I much prefer for people to take my words to heart. Not even to do what I say as much as to think about the words I say. I think that’s the best part of sharing wisdom or experience, getting others to consider it.
The next time you have advice to give, consider these things before you offer your wisdom:
1) Most people aren’t interested in hearing what you have to say. I know they may have asked for your opinion, but how different would you approach the answer if you told yourself “They’re being nice but they aren’t really interested in my opinion”? It might soften you with a little humility or humor.
2) Listen to the reason for the request. The story behind the counsel is the most interesting and useful part of sharing wisdom. You can’t offer help if you don’t know the need. Maybe they approached you because they must. Perhaps you supervise them. Maybe something they’ve experienced recently would be helpful to you as you pay attention. Make sure to spend more time hearing a person than you do speaking.
3) Tell people where they can get better information. If you can’t be helpful (and we all have our limits), tell the person seeking your advice where they might go. Further, if you share what you know but are aware of people who can give additional insights, tell that to the person you’re talking with.
4) Ask the person if what you’ve said makes sense to them. Ideas are clear in our heads. They may not be as clear when we verbalize them to the specific person seeking help.
5) Invite the person to keep you in the loop. One of the best ways of growing in giving advice is to get feedback. Maybe you’ll learn that you really shouldn’t tell people what to do. Who knows.
What would you add?