Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How to Deliver Sensitive Advice / Information

Andy Griffith steered Opie through the perils of growing up by telling him stories about himself, Aunt Bee, Barney, Gomer, Goober and Floyd. Can you imagine sitting your 15 year old down to discuss why she should not wear her newly purchased $150 jeans so low that she has to spend an extra $75 waxing and starting with “one time when Aunt Bee was about your age….”? I am just not sure where the story would go from there. Mostly you would get that “and this has what to do with me” look. Or an even bigger stretch might be trying to give a life lesson to a newly hired MBA grad by relating how Floyd behaved his first days on the job.

So if Barney and Goober are of no help, how do we as parents, spouses, bosses, employees and just plain folks help the people around us see the light? The ability to give advice that enhances something besides your own ego is challenging. Try this 4-step TEST and let me know how it goes.
  1. TEST 1
    Is your advice really solid advice that can be backed up with some empirical data or is it simply personal opinion? If the latter–STOP.

  2. TEST 2
    Is it really advice or are you camouflaging a counter perspective and are too much of a weenie to step up and directly disagree. Either way, this is not solid ground for advice giving.

  3. TEST 3
    Has your advice been asked for? If yes to #1 and #3 proceed. If nobody asked you then probably nobody cares. And, even if they do care and it is good advice, the fact that you gave your ‘recommendation’ without being invited to do so does something to the chemical activity in the brain causing thoughts similar to “who appointed you Dear Abby” to dance in the part of the brain that has the aggravation function.

    If your counsel has not been asked for, is it urgent that you give it anyway? And, if you feel you must give the advice, is there a way to give information and not make a behavioral recommendation which for some reason the human species defies? For example, “A large snake lives in that hole you are about to step in” versus “Don’t put your foot in that hole, there is a snake in there and he is going to bite you.” I guarantee the latter will at least some percentage of the time cause an otherwise rational person to put his foot in the snake hole just to prove you wrong.

  4. TEST 4
    Are you the right messenger? Regardless, by all means try to hand the job off to someone else. You will be better off for it in the end.


nick morgan said...

Especially agree with point 3. I've always found that when people want advice, they will open the door to it. That's when you should. . . walk through. Otherwise, you're probably going to be talking to deaf ears, and annoying your victim. With teenagers, this is most emphatically true.

Theresa Zagnoli said...

Thanks for adding your thoughts! Agree - with teenagers the audience is even "trickier".