The Most Important Factor in Offering Advice

Shows the most important factor in offering advice

Imagine this scenario: Your closest female friend just got engaged – to a complete loser. He’s not a very nice person, and he’s clearly not good for her. You see it, her other friends see it, her family sees it – marrying that loser is a mistake that could cost her thousands of dollars and the prime of her life.

What would you do? Have you ever tried to do something about a situation like this?

I ask this question all the time in my workshops, and I’ve learned a couple things:

  • Almost half my participants have, at some point, told someone that they were making a mistake in their choice of mates – they’ve offered the advice, “DON’T DO IT!”
  • Most of the time, that “DON’T TO IT!” advice was emphatically rejected.
  • “DON’T DO IT!” advice most often turned out to be correct – they shouldn’t have done it! (I hear a lot of tragic stories in my workshops.)
  • The most common outcome of offering unsolicited “DON’T DO IT!” advice? A dent in your relationship with your friend. You get un-invited to the wedding.

The Issue is When

Why does this happen? Why do people reject good advice offered by people with good intent?

Sales trainers would have you believe it’s all about HOW you offer advice. “Use the Socratic method,” they say. “A consultative approach is required.” While potentially true, this advice misses the point:

The primary determinant of your advice’s value is WHEN you offer it.

WHEN you offer advice matters more than WHO you are, WHY you offer it, HOW you offer it, or WHAT the advice is.

Why does WHEN matter most? It’s because of Confirmation Bias. When we’re in love with someone (or something), we seek out confirming evidence and dismiss contrary evidence. Your friend isn’t listening to you because she’s in love, and she’s not listening to anyone!

It’s the same with Clients – they fall in love with an idea, and proceed to ignore advice and even evidence to the contrary. Trying to “talk someone out of” an unwise move too soon can not only fail, it can damage the relationship – you’re not listening to where they are in the journey.

When is When?

The tricky part for Advisors is determining WHEN to offer advice contrary to Client belief. You’ve got to determine whether Clients are “in love” with their ideas, or simply testing them out. Here are a couple of questions to ask Clients (and yourself) that test for the WHEN:

  • Why do they believe what they believe?
  • What evidence or facts are they relying on?
  • What needs are they trying to satisfy with the belief?
  • Who/what do they trust most right now?
  • Is it time for my advice?

When you tune into their Clients’ emotional and psychological needs you’ll find that the answer to the last question is often “not yet.” In that case, hold your advice – it’s unsolicited.

Signs It’s Time 

How will you know WHEN it’s time for your advice?

  • When Clients express doubts or question their beliefs
  • When Clients ask you for your advice
  • When Clients’ visual and vocal cues match their verbal need for your advice


The most important factor in whether Clients value advice is WHEN you offer it. When you time your advice appropriately, the value of the advice goes up, and so does Client trust.

Dan Smaida is President/Chief Navigator at Boatman Learning Inc.