It’s tempting to offer words of wisdom to those in your closest social circles, but it can be a delicate balance between giving advice and sounding like a “know-it-all.” Even if your advice is encouraged or welcomed, it still can be tricky to pick the right message without seeming patronizing. It’s even more complex to offer your advice if it’s not requested.
We’ve asked communications pros and relationship experts to share strategies to get your advice across without the message coming across as demeaning.
Here’s how to give advice without being patronizing:
1. Ask permission first
The first is to respectfully ask the person if they want your advice. “This is an example of boundaries,” says Carrie Krawiec, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy, MI. “Asking permission also gives the other person the power to accept or decline.”
Furthermore, asking for permission conveys empathy and willingness to help, but also an awareness that your help may not be welcome and there is a dilemma in sharing.
“Be aware of the others body cues like eye rolls, sighs or disinterest and stop when you can see it’s unwanted,” Krawiec adds. If you are told “no,” it’s best to respect that and not offer your advice.
2. Make sure you’re giving advice for the right reasons
Before diving in to help, it’s worth a pause to make sure your intentions are in sync. Are you giving advice to be supportive or is it a response to your own emotional reactivity? If you realize you truly want to help, then move forward with your thoughts.
“I find once we feel our emotions the idea of giving advice transforms into offering unconditional guidance,” says Sherianna Boyle, author of Emotional Detox: 7 Steps to Releasing Reactivity & Energizing Joy and Emotional Detox for Anxiety.
3. Be mindful of your tone
It’s not just what you say, it’s also how you say it. When you’re giving advice to someone, tonality and body language are often just as important as the message being delivered.
“You’ll want to keep the tone light and have the conversation flow casually as any other one would, to keep the recipient from becoming defensive,” suggests Beverly Friedmann, content manager with ReviewingThis. “If your tone comes across as either pitying or judgmental, you’ll likely come across as patronizing.”
4. Drop the judgment
The topic at hand can vary but when you give advice or help to someone, it’s extremely important to remain free of any judgment, says Friedmann. While most of us don’t think of ourselves as judgmental, we all hold certain biases (conscious or not) that may impact how your conversation goes.
“If you give advice using judgmental phrases or tonality, your recipient will not only never get the message you may very likely come across as patronizing as well,” she adds.
5. Avoid Psychoanalysis
Try and keep the advice exchange on point. “Even if you have a background in psychology or are a licensed therapist, it’s important to make a distinction between psychoanalysis and personal advice,” continues Friedmann.
If you’re offering guidance to a friend or family member, it’s best to keep it light and try and avoid speaking to their “inner child” or about potential past traumas. Sticking to the topic at hand and your points without passing any judgment or attempting to analyze them will ensure you don’t come across as being patronizing.
“Therapy is best limited to the professionals in an in-office environment,” she adds.