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Learning to Give Great Advice

  • Neil Clark Warren
  • 2003 5 Jul
Learning to Give Great Advice

The old saying goes, "Advice is worth what you pay for it." We can all see how asking your uncle about your tax investments or your root canal could yield disaster, but in personal matters the adage is less certain. There are many people who have survived the life experiences you face. There are many circumstance you have overcome that seem daunting to your friends and associates.

You may have a great deal of valuable insight and information to share, but the subtle art of sharing your experience with compassion is the lynchpin of any loving relationship.

In other words, you've got to learn how to share yourself without sounding like a pompous know-it-all.

Dr. Neil Clark Warren was a practicing psychologist for 35 years. Seven years ago, he took the fruits of his knowledge of working with troubled couples and founded the online relationship service We asked him for some guidelines to remember when sharing your experience with others.

1. Wrap the advice in a compliment.

Dr. Warren credits his first suggestion to the famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. "Coach Wooden was a master motivator. If he needed to instruct or criticize he followed a definite formula. He began with a positive statement, then gave his critical advice. At the end of the conversation he finished with another positive opinion. This allowed him to deliver the message without insulting the receiver."

2. Pick your time wisely.

If you want your advice to be appreciated, it's important that you wait for a time when stress, fear and fatigue are at their minimum. "Many of us learned as children that our parents are sometimes less than agreeable," Dr. Warren points out. "We become skilled at approaching them when they are relaxed and happy. The chances are much greater that we will get our way. As adults, this lesson figures importantly in our plan to extend advice in an effective manner. Make sure that your advice comes during a time when it won't be seen as another demand."

3. Major in reinforcement. Minor in punishment.

"If you have an interest in seeing someone change their behavior, you're going to want to major in reinforcement.  You must become a master at determining what is reinforcing the behavior you believe should cease."

For an extreme example, if your best friend is overweight and needs to begin an exercise program you could say, "John, you've put on MORE weight. If you don't start exercising soon you're going to burst out of your pants." That probably won't get you very far. That reference to punishment (bursting out of his pants) may get a short term agreement from John, but it's unlikely to bring about a substantial long term change.

You must discover what is reinforcing John's refusal to exercise. What does he GET when he doesn't exercise? He gets to save the money required for a gym membership. He gets to save the time needed to lift weights and experience cardiovascular exercise. He misses out on the soreness and discomfort that comes with a new exercise regimen. And on and on. There are many things that reinforce John not to exercise.

Your advice-and more importantly your actions-must move in a manner that counter-balances these reinforcements. In fact, you must reinforce the behavior you desire.

3. Remember, EVERY person's chief motivation is to feel good about themselves.

"Be more of a cheerleader and less of an analyst. Many people seem to think that a good impression is based on how they act. In my work with eharmony I often see people fuss and fret about how they acted during a date.

They will say, 'I blew it! I was too serious. I was too boring. I was too loud.' What they don't realize is the real key to making a great impression is how you make the other person feel. If you make the other person feel special and smart and wanted, they are going to want to be around you again and again."

Dr. Warren points out how these same lessons apply to the advice we offer. If done in a way that makes a person feel great, they are much more likely to heed the advice and return to you later for more of your insights.

Wisdom is one of life's most valuable commodities. Your personal growth is tied to your willingness to share wisdom in ways that validate the receiver. By following these steps you can become a master of communication in ways that enrich your most important personal relationships.


The eHarmony Research Library is a branch of™, North America's most successful Relationship Building Service. Our precise technology searches a database of 500,000 persons to find truly compatible matches. Then, eHarmony's guided communication system helps you meet and get to know each other in an appropriate, in-depth manner.  Click HERE to learn more about eHarmony.