The Second Assumption that Hurts Client Relationships

assumptions are traps

I was at a friend’s house for dinner the other night, and I asked my hostess, “Do you please have some ibuprofen I could use for my back?”

“Sure,” she said, “How many do you need?”

“I usually take four.”

My hostess went to the bathroom and came out with a paper cup containing…two ibuprofen and one acetaminophen.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“This is the way you should do it,” she said. “The two drugs work differently, and the combination works even better than opioids for some pain.”

And just like that, my friend the nurse made the second assumption that hurts Client relationships:  Assuming the Need for advice.

The Need for Advice is Different than the Need for Help

We all do this from time to time:  Someone asks for help doing something, but you see they could be doing it differently or better.  So, in the spirit of helping, you offer advice instead of simply giving the help. “You should do it this way,” we say.

This is a natural process. As Daniel Kahneman points out in “Thinking Fast and Slow,” our brains are wired to substitute questions that are either easier to answer or more interesting to answer. If you’re a nurse, it’s easy to substitute “What would make Dan feel better?” as the question – it’s more interesting than, “Can I get Dan four ibuprofen?”

The problem with the advice you mistakenly offer isn’t technical – you’re an expert, and you often know the question the Client should be asking. In my example, the internet confirms my nurse friend is right – combining ibuprofen and acetaminophen has been shown to work better than opioids for some pain.

The problem, though, is when the Client doesn’t want an answer to your question. This is a key distinction – my request for ibuprofen (help) wasn’t a request for advice on the best way to treat pain. And, as we discussed in my last article, we tend to discount unsolicited advice (your “two cents’ worth”).

Compounding Error:  Incomplete Diagnosis

The desire to help can also lead to premature advice that doesn’t take everything into account. In the case of my friend the nurse, the question, “How does your stomach do with acetaminophen?” would have yielded new information (not well!) that should have negated the advice. In our rush to offer helpful advice, we forget to ask the questions.

Strategies for Success

You can avoid the trap of Assuming the Need for advice with these straightforward strategies:

  • Listen for what Clients are asking you for. The foundation of good listening is hearing the question they’re really asking vs. the one your mind substitutes.
  • Ask about – don’t assume – the need behind the need. Why are they asking for help? What’s driving the need they feel today?
  • Start by helping them with what they do need. When you start by helping with the need they know, you start to earn the privilege of advising them on new opportunities.
  • Find out if they really need your advice. I’ve learned to ask, “Are you looking for options?” or, “Would you like to know what others are doing in this type of situation?”
  • Replace “should” with “could.” Telling a client, “You should…” implies a directive, whereas “You could…” offers more choice and control, and makes the advice easier to take.


Assuming the Need for your advice is easy to do when Clients come to you looking for help. Top Advisors avoid this trust-busting assumption by listening more, asking the right questions, and mastering their own need to advise.  Use these straightforward strategies to focus on helping and earning the privilege of advising.


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