How to provide an advice: some communication ideas

In this post, I will attempt to critically think about advices and how to deliver them.

I have recently been thinking about advices as I realized how detrimental / harmful they could be, how inefficient they may sometimes be, and how to tackle these unfortunates outcomes. This is applicable to social media, in personal encounters, or in health-care relationships (and probably other types of interactions but these are the ones I have been able to relate this topic to at the moment).

  1. Providing an advice is always an act of kindness, a benevolent manifestation of caring … but it may not be perceived as such by the person receiving it. After all, aren’t we all experiencing in the world subjectively according to our lives and context?
    Let me illustrate this with examples.
    • I) A patient tells me they tried to start physical activity and started running everyday. As a healthcare provider, I am concerned about their safety and want to advise them to be careful about overload as they were sedentary for years. I want to prevent potential injuries. My first reaction is to want to say: “Great, but you should be careful, if you run everyday you may get injured”.
    • II) I see a video of somebody on social media doing an exercise and realize they do not perform the movement with optimal pattern. I want to help them achieving the perfect form, to avoid them wasting their time and help them improve. Then, I am keen on commenting below the post: “Your form is not perfect, you should try to work on x or y, or try to change this parameter as it will help you”.
    • III) A friend tells me they have decided to go vegan, and I worry about their health which would led me to say: “Cool, but you should take B12 vitamin to avoid issues”.
    • In scenario I), it is easy to think it is my role to provide this advice for the person’s safety, and act preventively. Yet, the person’s may receive it in a different way. Maybe it will reduce their initial motivation to do physical activity. Maybe they will think it is unsafe for them to run because I (their health-care provider), am concerned about their running. Maybe they will get offended that I do not believe in their ability to self manage. Any situation could happen here.
    • In scenario II) I am on social media, so I comment my advice thinking I will help the person doing better. But maybe this person received several comments like mine. Maybe they will feel criticized. Maybe they will feel the hard-work does not pay and they are not good enough. Maybe they will feel they should stop trying.
    • In scenario III), even though I just wanted to take care of a friend, maybe their experience was different. Maybe they will think I consider myself more knowledgable than them on a topic they love. Maybe they know more then me about it. Maybe they will feel isolated and misunderstood in their project. Maybe they will feel angry at me doubting them. Maybe they will feel hopeless for the future of planet and animal well-being and depressed by society and humankind.

    • In conclusion, either my advice was detrimental (decreasing their confidence, hopes, or creating anger), or inefficient / useless (as the person will not listen).

2. To tackle these situations, here are some ideas I may want to consider prior to say or write my advice.

A) I shall make sure the advice is embedded in a chat. I could start a conversation first. When someone comes to tell me I should do something without saying hello, I may legitimately feel irritated. So, I can start talking first and engage with the person.
Example II) : before telling my friend the exercise they posted on social media is not perfect, I can get news about them. “I saw your video on social media, it made me realise I wanted to get new from you, how are you doing? :)”

B) Then, once the conversation is started, I can begin by congratulating the person for what they are doing. Compliments and encouragements are always welcome.
Example I): “Congratulation for starting running, it is a great effort you are doing here, this is inspiring!”.

C) I may want to genuinely ask for prior knowledge. Most of the time I do not know how much the person already knows about the advice I want to deliver. And if they already know about it, what is the point of my advice?
Example III): “I heard many things about vegan diet, are you aware of potential issues associated with it?”

D) If they they are aware and have the same understanding as me, then I can be reassured and no need to go further. But if we have a different view on the topic, I may want to ask if they would like to know my perception (ask for permission). This allows me to make sure: -They are willing to know more / -They are in the mental disposition to hear my perspective / advice = they are available for it (sometimes it is just not the right time) / -They will listen leading to better chances of my advice to be helpful.
Example II): “It seems that I have a different understanding about how to perform this exercise, would you like me to share what I know about it with you?”

E) Then I can provide my advice in a kind and appropriate manner, choosing my words carefully.
Example I): “In my experience as a physiotherapist, I have observed that overload may happen when people tend to go back to physical activity. Some even get injured when starting with high frequency and intensity due to their motivation. What can be helpful is to monitor symptoms this way, and if needed reduce the frequency to x times a week, and after a while gradually increase it”.

F) Bonus: I can even go further by asking for their thoughts about it. It allows me to see if my message was understood, how they felt about it and maybe identify other topics of discussion.
Example III): “What do you think about it? Does it resonate with your experience?”

Here were the key elements I identified that could help providing advices more effectively in professional practice and life. Some elements may be similar in motivational interviewing or other types of communication strategies.

I am open to hear about how you do provide advices and your thoughts about this topic so let me know them in the comment section.

Take care


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