How do you give advice on a sensitive topic?


I found myself in a situation 3 times over the past 2 weeks where I felt some obligation to give advice on a sensitive topic.

It’s not easy to handle this perfectly.

I know many people shy away and assume the person will just figure things out in time.  I believe this type of person is missing an opportunity to show they care and also to influence in a positive way.  (We probably all know someone like this who just wants everyone to like them and won’t give advice on any topic.)

And then there are others who feel that it’s best to just ‘say it like it is’.  (We all probably have a cousin or an in-law who falls into this category.)  I believe this type of person is missing an opportunity to gently show they care, and potentially also to be listened when the advice is too judgmental and harsh.

I try to land somewhere in the middle.  Listen, understand the issue, and provide perspective that will help the person come to a decision that works for them.  I don’t want to stay out of it if they are looking for help, and I don’t want to push too hard.  The decision that may be right for me is not necessarily the one that is right for them so it’s important to step back and think about that aspect.  This is where I sometimes stumble, not my goal or my intent.  When I have time to think about the topic or I’ve had previous context, I do pretty well preparing my thoughts and providing advice that is helpful and delivered with compassion.

In two of the situations, I felt that I did a good job.  I listened, and asked questions, and focused the discussion on the difficult topic.  I demonstrated that I believed in their ability to take care of themselves, and that it was situation that was challenging and not something they had done wrong.

In one of the situations, I spoke too soon and it landed harder than I intended.  It was something I had personally been through before, and had seen many times and so I gave advice quickly.  I didn’t stop to reflect on the fact that for this person, it was new and personal and scary.  The advice I gave wasn’t wrong and the person took it okay (and basically agreed with me), but I came away thinking I could have done better.

I’m still learning.  And still caring to learn.  And still caring to give advice.

For 2017, my personal commitment (similar to a resolution, but lasting longer?) is to listen more, to pause, to reflect, and to strengthen the relationships I have through every conversation.  For some of you, this comes naturally.  For others like me, we have to think about it.  A lot.

Girl geek, may you give and receive helpful advice in the coming year.



1 Comment

  1. Anonymous says: Reply

    Your advice is wanted and warranted. Thank you for what you have taught me in the past.

Leave a Reply