Few people are born with the ability to give advice or constructive criticism. Most people forget that the point of giving advice is to help others to operate more effectively--not to tell the person what he or she is doing wrong.
Deciding to give advice, particularly to a close family member, can jeopardize even the healthiest relationship. I once gave unasked for advice and paid severe consequences. I found that the consequences can be worse if you are right. I learned that no one appreciates being proven wrong. I have learned to listen and make sympathetic noises instead of rushing in and offering well-intentioned advice.
If you are considering offering advice to a family member (or close friend) consider the following:
- Examine your motives beforehand, and make sure you don't have a hidden reason or agenda for giving advice to someone else.
- If instinct or past experience tells you that your advice probably won't be followed, then it may be best to say nothing.
- Be aware of the fact that you make yourself vulnerable when you give advice, and you may be held at least partially responsible if something goes wrong.
- Always state the positives first. This will make the other person relax and take your advice more seriously.
- Ask yourself if the advice you're about to give will really help the other person, or will it add an additional dose of disapproval to the concerns that the individual already has.
- Examine the nature of your relationship with the person to whom you are considering giving advice. If your communications are already good, and if constructive criticism has been exchanged between you on a fairly equal basis, a bit of well-intentioned advice is unlikely to upset the relationship.
- Be sensitive about broaching the subject. Be aware of when and where you can bring issues up, making sure that you both have time privacy and time to talk.
- Be aware of the other person's frame of mind when you offer advice. Moments of emotional upheaval are not conducive to giving (or being able to listen) advice. Instead, comfort and support are usually more appropriate at those times.
- Avoid being judgmental and don't make attacks on the other person's character. It is more effective to say, "I'm concerned about . . .” than to say, "I think you're wrong because..." Advice and/or criticism that is perceived as being harsh or judgmental is likely to produce resentment on the part of the person hearing the criticism. They may also disagree with your assessment of a problem. Even if they do agree, they may be more likely to feel unable to change if the advice has been communicated in a critical manner.
- Avoid making threats or scaring someone by turning advice or criticism into veiled ultimatums. Such displays of authority (or superiority) are unlikely to produce positive results.
- Be specific in the advice you give. If you've been asked for your advice on a particular problem focus on that issue and don't make comments about the other areas of that person's life. Specifically, be careful not to give "win-lose" advice. For example, avoid saying, "If you make the decision to choose that job in Seattle, it will be the biggest mistake of your life." Instead say, "I'm concerned about that decision because . . . " This gives the person hearing the advice the option to respond to your remarks without feeling defensive.
And finally, show some humility when you dispense advice. Make it clear that you are willing to ask for and receive advice yourself.