Tue | May 26, 2020

Trevor E. S. Smith | Why giving advice is so challenging and what to do about it

Published:Monday | January 21, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Giving advice can be such a thankless task at times.

Why is our well-intentioned advice greeted with hostility?

Why does our sage counsel fall on deaf ears and the behaviour modification that we seek, not materialise?

The four questions and recommendations below should make a difference.




When we reach out with advice, our motives are generally good. However, our intentions are not the issue. One problem is that we tend to speak from our perspective. 

We see the offending issue from our point of view. However, our coaching is being heard from a totally different standpoint. The listener's filters have translated our message and created a different picture. That understanding causes them to respond negatively, to ignore the advice or to be unable to apply it. 

This is a common pitfall when giving advice.

What to do 

Work to better understand the individual and their circumstances before giving advice. What appears best from your perspective might be totally inappropriate for the individual at this point in time. 

What if a stranger started giving you advice about how to manage your relationship? What if someone criticised your diet without knowing your objectives?




Another reason for pushback is the absence of a genuine connection. 

Who are you? What gives you the right to give me instructions or guidance?

What has inspired this intervention?

I have not seen you take any real interest in my wellbeing so why should I take onboard what you are saying? If you only preach to me instead of relating to me, your message might have a problem getting through.

This is common failing of managers, teachers, parents, coaches whose voices are only heard when there is something to correct!

What to do 

One great bit of advice is to catch people doing the right thing and celebrate that moment. “Great, I see that you have mastered that skill. The key now is for you to get it right every time. Congratulations!”

Strive to show that you care about the whole person before seeking to provide advice. People need to feel that you have their best interests at heart before they will open up to your coaching. 




Another reason why your advice might be rebuffed is poor timing. We talk about a "coachable moment". That is point at which an individual is most willing and able to receive advice. 

There are other times when the Bible alludes to a state in which we hear but do not understand and see but do not perceive (Isaiah 6:9).

Nothing really penetrates at that point. That is the "deaf ears" road block that we often mischaracterise as stubbornness.


What to do 


Be alert to the state of mind of the individual before dishing out advice. If they are distracted, upset, angry or in a funk, it might be best to get them in a settled state first.




We hear it over and over, it is not what you say but how you say it. It is repeated because it is a frequent reason for the rejection of advice.

Common features of flawed approaches include talking down to the individual; shouting accompanied by aggressive body language; failing to listen (really listen) to what the individual has to say and reciting old issues.


What to do


Endeavour to go into the process with a mind-set that wants to get the best outcome for all parties. A coachable moment should not be wasted on grandstanding, venting, demeaning, getting revenge or inflicting punishment. The objective here should be to provide guidance such that it is manifested in the desired behavioural change.

Holding someone accountable and requiring them to face the consequences of their action is best separated from the way forward discussion.





Behavioural styles have a huge influence on how we give and receive advice and instructions! Understanding behavioural styles makes a big difference in the effectiveness of anyone charged with the responsibility of guiding others– parents, teachers, supervisors, team leaders. Request a copy of our publication “How To Give Feedback To Different Behavioural Styles”.

- Trevor E S Smith and the Success with People Academy empower individuals, teams and organisations. We prepare and certify Leadership Professionals and Coach/Mentors and develop Engaged, High Performing Teams. Hire Smart with our recruitment solutions. Now enrolling coaches in the ICF/SHRM-Accredited Certified Behavioural Coach program. 

E-mail: info@successwithpeople.org