The more success you have, the more often that you are asked by other people give advice about what they should do.  It is flattering to be asked for your opinion, but if you are going to spend the time advising someone else, it would be nice if your advice was actually used in some way. 

Unfortunately, few people get lessons in how to give advice.  As a result, you are probably not giving advice as well as you could.  So, today I'd like to give you some advice about advice.

At SXSW Interactive this year, I had the chance to do a panel discussion with Kate Niederhoffer, a PhD psychologist who got her degree at the University of Texas and creator of the app Sooth, which provides a forum for people to give advice.  We wanted to provide a science-based way for people to think about advice without being too confusing. 

So, we boiled the research down into six steps, and organized them into the acronym ARCADE.  Let me give you a tour of what we talked about.

A-Acknowledge the Feeling

When someone comes to you for advice, they are already feeling unsettled and probably frustrated.  Something is blocking their way toward a goal they would like to achieve. 

There is a temptation to dive right into problem solving.  Before you do that, though, it is important to acknowledge how frustrating and difficult the situation is.  Often, people asking for advice are unsure whether they are making too big a deal out of something, so it is helpful for them to know they are completely off base.

One other reason why it is important to acknowledge the feeling is that some people asking for advice really just want validation.  That is, they are engaged in a frustrating situation and they have a thought about how to proceed.  They are looking more for a sense that they are on the right track than a completely new course of action.  By starting your advice with a clear statement that you understand what they are dealing with, you are setting the stage for your advice to be heard.

R-Reframe the Situation

One reason why people often think that their situation is intractable is because they are failing to take into account some crucial factor.  A critical value of expertise is that it gives you a way to see the broader context in which actions take place. 

For example, many people dealing with interpersonal problems are prone to assume that the problem they are facing reflects a deep-seated trait of the person with whom they have a conflict.  However, they may not recognize that there are aspects of the situation that would cause almost anyone to act like the person they are dealing with.  If so, perhaps they should be focused on changing the situation rather than the person.

That means before you dive into an exercise of solving the problem someone approaches you with, begin by thinking about what question you think the person should have asked you.  Have you got another idea for how to think about the case presented to you?  If so, your best advice may be to help someone to look at the problem in a different way.

C-Create the Goal

Once you have identified the problem, it is important to give people advice in a way that will actually help them to change their behavior and the behavior of other people they are dealing with.  The last four parts of the ARCADE system are drawn from the principles in my book Smart Change.

The first crucial step is to focus on a goal that will help to solve the problem.  This goal needs to focus on actions someone can perform  rather than on behaviors to be avoided.  Motivation can only drive people to act.  It is hard to get people to learn not to do something.

A critical part of success is to create a goal that is achievable.  People are only motivated to engage in actions if they think there is some chance of success.  So, the goal needs to be stated in a way that provides people with a sense that they can succeed.  The rest of the steps in the advice process are aimed at harnessing people's motivation.

A-Assess the Gap

It turns out that the motivation to engage in action requires some dissatisfaction.  You have to contrast what you have right now with a desired future.  That contrast makes you feel worse about where you are in life right now, but it also provides you with motivational energy to engage in action.

When someone has come to you for advice, they may not have a clear sense of how to go about envisioning the desired future and assessing the size of the gap from the present to the desired future.  An important part of advice is helping people to have a reasonable understanding of how far they will have to go to reach their desired future. 

D-Devise the Plan

Just understanding the gap between present and future is not enough.  People also need a path that allows them to achieve their goal.  That is where the plan comes in. 

Advisors often play a significant role in helping people to establish a good plan.  Research by Peter Gollwitzer suggests that the best kind of plan is an implementation intention in which you map out specific actions that you will take at particular times and that take into account the obstacles that will prevent you from achieving your goal.  People who establish implementation intentions are far more likely to succeed at their goals than those who don't.  Your advice should be focused on helping people to develop that plan.

E-Empower the Action

Finally, lots of research on motivation demonstrates that people are most engaged in a task when there is a gap between present and future, but that gap can be bridged.  When people feel as though they have what they need, they are not highly motivated to do anything.  When they are dissatisfied with their present state, but feel they can never achieve their goal, they are also unmotivated.

Helping people to develop a plan is an important part of the process of giving people a sense of how to bridge that gap.  However, it is also valuable to give advisees encouragement that will allow them to recognize that their efforts are likely to be successful. 

That is where empowerment comes in.  Often, you have a better sense of the difficulty involved in achieving a new goal than does a person you are advising.  So, help them to recognize that the plan that they create will lead to success, even if that takes time. 

In the end, you may not use all of these steps every time you give advice to someone, but keeping these elements in mind will help you to be more effective at advising others.  In addition, by using this framework, you will increase the chances that people will be able to use your advice to make positive changes in their lives.

Published on: Apr 6, 2016