Why giving advice doesn’t work

No doubt you’ve experienced this too. Someone asks if they can have a quick chat, and then gives an explanation of whatever tricky situation they are in. Followed shortly thereafter by:

What would you do? What’s your advice? What do you think?

It’s super tempting to dive right in. Particularly if it’s an issue you feel strongly about. The problem is .. It doesn’t work.

It’s not a function of our advice (which is probably ok advice). It actually wouldn’t matter what you say.

Why giving advice doesn’t work

  • Inherently, you know this. When someone starts giving you advice (even if you have asked for it); our first (second, third) reaction is usually why it wouldn’t work. How you’ve already tried that. A version of  “yes, but…”
  • We don’t usually like to be told what to do (even if we have asked for it!)
  • And almost always, we have very little buy in to whatever solution is suggested.  And so often, pretty limited follow up action.
  • This is hard though.. Very very hard. Particularly if you can see the “right” solution for the person, or what you would do in the situation.
  • The thing is though – we almost never know the full situation. We know what the other person tells us – which by its very nature is going to be biased.
  • If they do take your advice, and it doesn’t work. Guess who they will blame?? Not themselves – but the person who suggested it in the first place.

So, what to do, instead?

The excellent book, The Advice Trap, offers these suggestions (replicated in full):

  1. “..The Kickstart Question: “What’s on your mind?” A perfect way to start many conversations. Both open and focusing at the same time.
  2. The AWE Question: “And what else?” The best coaching question in the world – because their first answer is never their only answer, and rarely their best answer.
  3. The Focus Question: “What’s the real challenge here for you?” We’re all wasting too much time and effort solving the wrong problem because we were seduced into thinking the first challenge is the real challenge.
  4. The Foundation Question: “What do you want?” This is where motivated and informed action best begins.
  5. The Strategy Question: “If you’re saying Yes to this, what must you say No to?” Strategy is about courageous choice, and this question makes commitment and opportunity cost absolutely clear.
  6. The Lazy Question: “How can I help?” The most powerful question to stop us “rescuing” the other person. An alternative is “What do you want from me?”
  7. The Learning Question: “What was most useful or valuable here for you?” Learning doesn’t happen when you tell them something, it happens when they figure it out for themselves…”



Being asked for advice can be flattering. But it can also mean we are constantly in rescue mode. And we’re not really doing the other person any favours. The other person has limited buy in to our solution and very little growth or learning.

Note though.. Listening, asking questions, being curious.. It’s hard.. much much harder than saying our piece.



If the above has whetted your appetite, and you’re keen for more.. Here are some ideas:

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See you soon,

Tammy Tansley
I am a coffee loving, energetic human who loves words, bright colours and spots, silly t'shirts and good champagne. Mum to two beautiful mischiefs. Long time wanderer around the world. Author. Blogger. Speaker.

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