The Art of Giving Advice

As health professionals we think it’s our duty to tell clients what they need to do to get better, that is, give advice.


But as we all know, giving advice even when it’s the best available doesn’t alway help clients do what they need to do to get the treatment outcomes they want.


In fact I’d argue that many clients dealing with injury and illness know what they need to do but struggle to take action.


Here’s an interesting quote from Adam Grant, a well-known psychologist.


“When we seek advice, we rarely want to be told which option to choose. Were usually seeking guidance on how to approach the decision. The best advice doesnt specify what to do. It highlights blind spots in our thinking and helps us clarify our priorities”


When your clients are completely ready to take action then your advice may be very effective but what about those who are ambivalent and struggling to do what they need to do?


With advice, you should be presenting your client with all the different options or outcomes that they may not have considered themselves. After all, to take action is their decision, so you should give them the tools they need to make the best choice for themselves.


We are all different, so what you may do in a situation is completely different from what another person may do.


If your client truly wanted you to make a decision for them, you wouldn’t be listening to excuses as to why they haven’t taken action. But often thats not what they want.


They may want to hear the different key points that you would consider when making a decisions. Oftentimes, when we judge someone elses situation, we completely shut down their struggle points and only think about what we would do if we were in their shoes. Or worse still, wonder why they can’t action something so simple as fitting in 5’ of exercise a day.


We make the situation way more black and white than it probably is. But no situation is completely black and white and often times it varies from client to client.


Instead of immediately telling your client what they need to do, present the questions you would ask yourself in order to work out what to do, how to do it and when to do it.


Examples may include:


“What need’s to happen for you to….?”

“What options are you considering?”

“How would you manage to …..?”

“What information do you need from me to help you make a decision?”


Ask permission.


The next time your client is struggling to commit to your exercise program, and you think they may want some help, ask them using the following prompts:


                   “May I offer a tip on xyz?”

                   “Is it ok if I make a suggestion for you?”

                   “Can I add my input on your situation?”

                   “I understand how you might be feeling, can I explain some things that have worked for me in the past?”


This way, if the client doesnt want your advice, they can simply say no and leave it at that. The disagreement and frustration are completely avoided! But if they do, the dialogue is opened up in a way that allows both parties to feel safe and heard.


If they agree to you offering suggestions, make sure you offer at least 3 solutions to their problem and let them know they can pick the one that best suits their situation. After hearing your suggestions it may prompt them to come up with a better option.


Either way you are not directing your client on what they have to do but rather guiding them to make the best decision that will work for them.


This may mean giving up on your best solution but any solution that they action is better than the best solution never actioned.




Advice giving can be a slippery slope. People often dont want to hear advice that is the opposite of what they wanted to hear. Its frustrating and confusing for someone to suggest the opposite of what you really want in a situation.


Make sure you always ask permission before giving someone advice.


Refrain from telling a client struggling to take action how to feel or what to do. Just give them the tools they need to come to that conclusion on their own.


Oftentimes, the thing they want most when they seek advice is respect, support and to be listened too.

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