How to Give Advice

A formula for profitable advice giving

If you want someone to pay you for advice, I like the 5-to-1 rule: for every critique, 5 compliments.

This is the sandwich rule (compliment-criticism-compliment) on steroids. Its premise is that groups perform better when overwhelmed by positivity. You see this principle in action on Seth Godin’s Akimbo workshops.

HBR published research on the 5-to-1 rule 7 years ago https://hbr.org/2013/03/the-ideal-praise-to-criticism.html. Their research approach was to compare teams with varying “complimenting protocols. The team instructed to complement one another the most devised the most profitable solutions. On average, they complimented one another 5 times for every criticism; as a result, criticisms were not only better received but they more frequently resulted in behavior changes.

It’s not just about money either. Withholding compliments is a form of emotional greed, childish and rude. But withholding useful criticism is also selfish. It’s important to criticize well. If you can’t criticize your clients work well, you are not a consultant.

But how to do 5 compliments for every criticism – genuinely.

The first step is to use the word advice, not criticism. But if the advice has negativity, it should still be ensconced in positivity.

It sounds harder than it is – 5 positive interactions. It gets easier by cultivating these habits:

  • “Dale-Carnegie-style generosity
  • curiosity
  • humility

Curiosity lets you discover more facts about someone that may impress you. Humility lets you assign more value to those facts than you otherwise might. What they know might be more valuable than what you know.

Dale Carnegie asks us to build up goodwill through many little acts of generosity – such as taking the time to learn someone’s name [1] and seizing every opportunity to say it.

That gives us a formula: being a profitable advice-giver means being curious, humble, and generous with what you observe. Of course, people have to want your advice in the first place; that’s another discussion.

Hopefully your next question is, how do you be curious?

My best,
Rowan


Footnotes & Errata
  1. Dale Carnegie said “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language... https://www.amazon.com/How-Win-Friends-Influence-People-ebook/dp/B07CRCWG7Q/