Book: Reflections

Reflections - bringing attention to your daily life by Désirée Steinmann

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Reflections of the Week

How to give great advice!

2011-06-17 13:46 (comments: 0)

Five steps to success!

I’m often asked by the executives, the couples, the parents and the consultants whom I coach how to give constructive advice.  How does it happen that we feel understood and helped after the conversations with some people and discouraged and annoyed by even the best-intended advice of others? What makes this difference?


1.      Be present!


Everything begins with your attention! I don’t mean just listening to people and looking at them when they talk to us. I mean your undivided attention! This undivided attention is becoming a rare phenomenon in our hectic society. I see how many people constantly scan their environment for things that they could be missing while they are talking to others. As they listen, they often quickly check their smart phone or even answer a call even though they actually don’t need to (but the phone is ringing so they react like a well trained animal).


When we really listen and give the other person our undivided attention, it is easier to catch even the unspoken messages. We are aware of the emotions in the conversation. This brings us to the second step:


2.      Accept the emotions!


Emotions are always real to the people who can feel them. It doesn’t really help when we try to dismiss the emotions as soon as they emerge in a discussion. It is more constructive to listen and identify and to accurately label the emotions. Respond accordingly and say for example: “I see that you are upset/annoyed/sad/disappointed about…” Often the people who experience these emotions aren’t clearly aware of what they feel. They realize it only when somebody else calls the emotion by its name.  Sometimes these emotions disappear as soon as they are clearly acknowledged (by both the speaker and the listener).  It is not about amplifying the negative feelings or about wallowing in the negative emotions, but about simple acknowledgement of the facts. This is best achieved with the next step:


3.      Ask intelligent Questions!


The clearer our understanding of the problem, the easier it is to find an answer or a solution. Through intelligent questions we can better understand the true nature of the situation and we can identify the exact feelings that create the emotional turmoil.. We can also become aware of the assumptions or fears that influence the situation.

When asking questions the focus is more to allow the other person to get a clearer picture or find unresovled challenges, then for us to get the full picture! We rather facilitate the process and look for missing pieces, uncertainty or other factors that are interfeering.The questions and the pictures that result from the answers prepare me for the next step:


4.      Create perspectives!


We are all familiar with the tunnel vision which limits our perception so much that we can’t see the forest for the trees anymore. Thanks to the intelligent questions, we are able to regain the balance and to recognize again the various details and shades, as well as the big picture. This helps us to develop different perspectives which can help us to suggest the ways out of the gridlock and allow us to see other choices and possible solutions. This, in turn, can stimulate the person seeking advice to develop new perspectives and possibilities. This leads to self-confidence and, as a result, helps people to find their own solutions. If this happens, usually there are no problems with motivation and responsibility, which create great conditions for success!

If this doesn’t happen, and the person seeking our advice clearly waits for us to suggest an action plan, we can go a step further and describe what we would do, or what others have done in a similar situation.


5.      Give clear advice


A very common reason for hesitation and indecision is often the lack of clarity as to a strategy or lack of self-confidence and the paralyzing feeling: “I can’t do this!”  If you are convinced that the plan will work and that the other person will be able to carry out the necessary steps, then show it! This way your confidence and your trust can rub off on the others and they can provide the necessary impulse to action. I am always all for helping others to find their own ways and solutions, but sometimes a clearly suggested action plan can help develop self-confidence.


In a nutshell, it is not about you when you give advice. The attention, the feelings, the questions, the perspectives and the action plan are all intended for the person seeking your advice. They are not meant to put you in the spotlight or to make you feel important and good about yourself.

This way you will become an appreciated advisor!





The true secret of giving advice is, after you have honestly given it, to be perfectly indifferent whether it is taken or not, and never persist in trying to set people right.


Hannah Whitall Smith



People who ask our advice almost never take it. Yet we should never refuse to give it, upon request, for it often helps us to see our own way more clearly.


Brendan Francis



When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.


Henri Nouwen

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