People have different style preferences. So much of what makes advice good is the right style.

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So I randomly came up with this system last night (applicable to any advice that is given or received in any kind of relationship, not specifically formal advisor/advisee relationships) to be good at advice

Different levels of advice

  • Level 0 — words of encouragement and acknowledgement: You don’t actually give advice.

Examples

Jane is anxious that her date hasn’t texted her after their date

  • Level 0: You tell her you understand how these things can be stressful, that she’s a catch and he’d be lucky to date her.

Not that anyone talks this way in real life, but I feel like we could all be better at it if we could be like “What kind of advice are you looking for?” “Ya just L1 and L2 advice, thanks.”

How to not *give* bad advice

Being knowledgeable isn’t enough — so much of what makes advice good or bad is your ability to navigate their communication style and what they’re really asking. We have a tendency to project our preferred style on others but we should be tailoring our communication to the receiver. It’s not easy.

Choosing the right level for the receiver as the advice giver

  • Use these simple questions as a starting point: “Do you want advice (L2, L3) or moral support (L0, L1)?” “Do you want to know what I would do (L1, L2, L3)?”

Also

  • Read their personality and their headspace to understand if they prefer advice given from a soft, emotional lens or direct, logical lens. Some advice givers soften the message to avoid being hurtful. If the receiver wants the hard stuff, don’t dance around it, they’ll use all their mental energy exasperatedly parsing out what you mean so they won’t hear you anyway. Others think the best way to show respect is to ‘give it to them straight.’ Tough love won’t stick if they can’t take it, they’ll ignore or warp the message because they’re hurt. Soften it if the receiver is fragile.

How to not *get* bad advice

Most advice sucks, but good advice is not just the advice giver’s responsibility.

Here’s what you can do as the receiver to get better advice

  • Find a reliable source: Ideally find someone 1–2 steps ahead of you. The issue is still fresh in their mind, and being fresh away from solving the issue, they’ll get the most catharsis from talking through it, and thus be the most likely to be available and thoughtful. Second choice is someone who is at the same stage as you now, third choice is someone who was where you were long ago. When looking for emotional advice, weigh your friendship more heavily than their relevant knowledge, and when looking for impersonal advice, prioritize relevant knowledge. If you can’t figure out who or what to trust, i.e. there’s no consensus answer, you don’t have a good sense of how to tell if someone is truly knowledgeable in a particular industry, etc, ask a few people and put the story together yourself.

How to communicate your needs clearly. If you want —

  • Level 0 advice: “This is rough and I don’t want advice but I’d appreciate if you could just listen.” Wanting words of encouragement is implied when you say this.

Also

  • Choose wisely. Bad advice < no advice.

I feel like a lot of content in this post might seem intuitive on the surface…but if it was, everybody would be good at advice and I wouldn’t have written it. For me at least, having a framework allows me to do a gut check and make my intuition reliable in the moment. I shared this because I hope it might be useful to someone else.

Thanks for the read.