Title: A Guide on how to give Advice
Author: Flinn

A Guide on how to give Advice Hello there lads, may the Dude bless you all

As you know Iím a convinced supporter of the idea that everybody has something to say and that each of us can bring his own experience and thoughts into the PH&A fora to help others, all that is needed to be effective itís a bit of strategy and some basic considerations. Although the potential to be a support is inside everyone, suggestions should be given out carefully, because no one can foresee all the consequences and so extra attention is needed. Besides, this is a serious thing, so a serious commitment is required: as once someone said, the best way to help others is to help them all the way long, being at their side continuously until they have solved their problem or at least they are on the right way to do so.

First of all, the rules. Like for any other place here at TWC, it is mandatory to respect the Terms of Service and in particular any disruptive post or personal aggression should be absolutely avoided, due to the special nature of the local fora. Furthermore, any kind of medical advice is not allowed, even if one is a doctor/specialist or is sharing his own personal and ďtestedĒ experience; in no case we are allowed to give such advices (i.e. use this or that medicine, do this or that exercise, etc), because the risk to make serious damages is extremely high, while the chances of being effective still remain low. The best we can do while someone is blatantly asking for medical advices (or giving them), is to remind him that such advices should be asked and given only within the frame of a professional in real life; also, reporting the thread/post to the Moderation will help avoiding further issues.

It is also important to keep in mind that the purpose of these fora is that of providing people at need with effective and honest advices, so Iíd like to list few points on how to enforce this:

  • If you think that someone cannot be helped or if you donít know what to tell, simply avoid posting. A friendly word is always welcomed, but posting something useless or, even worse, damaging, just for the purpose of doing it, should be avoided and will be most probably reported.
  • If you donít share the view or point of someone else, try to avoid starting a quarrel with him and donít go off-topic: the best course of action would be to just point out that you donít share that view and at the same time to provide your own position. In general, if you could avoid any kind of opposition to othersí positions it would be better and if they are openly breaking the TOS (such as: promoting illegal activities, or violence and such) simply report them.
  • Criticism is allowed, but it always has to be positive and constructive: it is hard to define the borders of what might be considered ďconstructiveĒ, because it depends on the case and could be subjective, so thread carefully. In general I believe that if it is a kind of criticism you wouldnít accept yourself, most probably nobody else would accept it.
  • Education is fundamental: if you will follow the most basic rules of education (such as being polite, patient and respectful) the reader will most probably be more available to listen to your advices. If someone comes here for advices, he is surely having a hard moment, therefore if he feels attacked or disrespected he might well discharge an advice that instead could have benefited him the most. Once again, this is not the D&D, always keep in mind that the final purpose is that of helping people, not that of enforcing our position about something or someone. We are not here to sell our truth, but to help others finding their own.
  • Tones might vary: being polite does not mean that you cannot use some harsh tones when they are needed, the important is that of keeping the things under a positive light and avoiding any kind of offence. I would say that to be a successful advisor, one needs, as a basic skill, the ability to mix soft and harsh tones to drive the attention and the mood according to the needs of the discussion.

And what about the people asking for advice? What is mandatory to know about them? Some general rules are provided here; in particular itís important to know the context where the events are taking place: more than often it will be very difficult to get the full picture, for various reasons (such as the poster that tries to hide his background because heís ashamed, or because he is concerned to share info about himself on the net, or simply because heís lazy), but in any case it is mandatory to insist to know the most possible about the poster. If needed, tell him that providing low quality info will result in getting low quality advices.

Furthermore, asking straight questions is always important, because they help you understand better specific points and it also helps the poster to get confidence with you and to open up a bit more. Also, never be ashamed to ask sensible questions (always be polite anyways), because when it comes down to personal problems, more than often the cause of the suffering is internal and related to our own experience, therefore it is important to know some private details, in order to understand better the whole story.
Sadly, someone wonít open up at all or even give a second feedback to the questions youíll make, in this case always state that you are giving a general advice and that the results might vary sensibly according to the posterís actual situation.
As an alternative, if the problem is embarrassment or discretion from the poster, you can always use PMs to keep the discussion on a private sphere. If you go this way, always remember to not to share publicly any private info you are aware of, not even with the poster himself.

Another important point is: what kind of advice are they looking for? Basically, there are three kinds of posts: those that tell about a specific situation and ask for a straight advice, those that are used to vent out personal problems as a form of relief, and a variable mix of the previous two. In all the three cases above it is possible to supply a form of advice, it just needs a bit of adaptation. I donít believe in walls of texts in general (as a mean to impress the reader) and more than often a single sentence holds more wisdom than a full book, still sometimes a bit of text is needed to let the people at need understand clearly what you are writing and to show them your experience, before you deliver the main advice.
Itís hard sometimes, but a good advisor should always spend few minutes to read and re-read the original post and any other following comment from the poster, in order to be able to approach the matter at the best.
Taking the right time and commitment to understand the problem is a fundamental part of being a good advisor.

What skills do we need to be good advisors? Actually being a good listener (or reader in this case) is important, although this means little if you donít have the ability to show empathy to the poster. Honestly, itís a combination of many factors (experience, understanding of life, wisdom in general and empathy), but I do believe that the latter is the most important, or better to say the only one that shouldnít be missing. I donít know if empathy could be trained or improved, it was always natural for me to put myself in othersí clothes, but in any case I believe that a kind of intentional attempt to understand the other should always be done, despite of any personal beliefs about that specific issue or matter.
The more we understand the better it is; furthermore it has a secondary benefit, because while thinking about othersí problems we learn more about ourselves and, possibly, we learn how to solve our own problems.
Giving advices is not just a rational process, it also involves the ability to solve our own internal conflicts during the process.

As said above, giving an advice is a risky job sometimes, so being very clear is absolutely mandatory: not just for what concerns the advice itself, but also for its consequences. Not that any advice might bring to a dramatic end, but some could, so in this case be very straight and honest with the original poster, and always tell them, if you feel like they donít understand this, that what you say comes from your experience and from your considerations and that it might bring to the expected results but even not.
At this regard, always try to involve the poster in the thinking process if possible: questions such as ďwhy do you think this happens?Ē are not only important to understand the matter, but they are also useful to help them seeing the things from another point of view and making up their mind with new perspectives.
This is not just a matter of avoiding further issues anyhow, itís also one of the most important parts of giving advices: itís not just about solving that specific problem, is also about having people learn how to think about approaching problems in general and, most important, to learn how to take their responsibilities about their own life.

Giving the good example works well too, although it is hard to do it in a forum. One of the reasons why I have my own two threads about my personal issues is that of showing to anyone that there should be no worries in opening up with honesty and that anyone has problems: although modern times seem to contradict this statement, we never have to forget that we are not alone, but that we are part of a community (here or in RL it does not matter) and that there are more people available to help us that we have ever imagined or even hoped.

As a final note, I beg you to remember that we give advices for the purpose of doing good, therefore if we see that our suggestions are ignored or rejected, we donít have to take this personally and hold any grudge; sometimes they can even blame you because of the results generated by your advices (rare but possible), which is something discouraging but honestly not that important, as long that you know that you have been very clear and straight with them. Whatever might be the case, one shouldnít give up, because thereís plenty of people that might benefit from our suggestions out there.
This is a service, and as any other service, it grants to those who deliver it the dignity of a real person.