So you already know that one of the key skills of giving advice is Ask or Have. That is, either Ask Permission to give advice or Have an Invitation. (You can read the first part this article here: Part 1.)
That being said, there is a skillful and less skillful way to Ask Permission. Sometimes people Ask Permission by saying: “Can I give you some advice about this?” Or: “There is something I want to suggest to you about this. Are you willing to listen?”
This is not the best way to ‘Ask Permission’, and here’s why. Some people are uncomfortable saying ‘no’ to an offer for help; they think it is impolite. So they end up say ‘yes’ even though they don’t really want the advice. And the result is that they feel resentment because they had advice pushed on them, and we feel frustration because we were wasting our time. So the question is not if people are willing to listen; the question is whether they want our advice.
Another reason is that asking people if they are willing to listen puts the emphasis on the advisor’s desire to give advice. Notice how these are first-person questions: “Can I give you some advice…?” or “There is something I want to tell you…”. Skillful advice giving is not about the advisor’s desire; it is about helping another person.
So what you want to find out when Asking Permission is not if people are willing to listen. It is if they want your advice. If they are simply ‘willing to listen’, they might be doing it just to be polite. If they want your advice, then you know they really want it.
How does one Ask Permission skillfully? A simple way is this: “Would you like some advice?” Or: “Are you interested in some feedback about this?” Notice how these questions are in second-person (“Would you like…?” “Are you interested…?) That places the focus squarely where it needs to be, which is on the other person.
Here is an even more elegant way: “As I am listening to you, I have an idea that you might find helpful. Would you like to hear it?” I personally love that last way, and it is the one I use when possible.
The next step is to pay attention to people’s responses to your question. If you get an eager “yes”, then you have a green light, and if you get a “no,” that is a red light and you should not proceed. No matter how convinced you are that your advice is valuable, if they say ‘no’ it is best to trust their inner wisdom to know what is best for them. Don’t try to sneak your advice in, and don’t make a snide remark about how they will regret not having listened to you, or anything like that. Honor their inner wisdom. by all means give your advice. (Just make sure to follow the other skills of advice giving, which you can find in other blog posts on this site.)
If you get a lukewarm “yes,” treat it as a yellow traffic signal. It is not clear that they want your advice. They may be saying ‘yes’ just to be polite. So proceed with caution. When I get a lukewarm “yes,” I sometimes say: “It sounds like you are not really sure, and I don’t want to offer advice unless I know you want it.” That helps people respond more clearly about their true desires.
If you are seeking to help the other, which is the only reason you should be offering advice, do so only when your advice is truly wanted.
The skillful way to Ask Permission is with a second-person question. That helps you clarify if they really want your advice.
If people say ‘no’, honor their inner wisdom. Don’t argue with them or try to persuade them to change their minds.
© 2012 Bernard Uzi Weingarten
If you have found this article of value and want to explore these skills further and master them, I invite you to the first two sessions of my next Communicating Effectively With Compassion tele-course, FREE as my guest. Register at uziteaches.com