Stop Giving Unsolicited Advice

By Deborah Laurel


There are a number of reasons why people give unsolicited advice. If you have such a tendency, see if any of the following sound familiar:

1. They assume that the person wants to hear their opinion of what they themselves would do in the situation.

2. They had a similar problem that they solved successfully, so naturally they feel obliged to share it.

3. They worry that, since they are the boss, they will look incompetent if they do not immediately offer their advice or solution to the problem.

4. They know that they are expected to offer advice because they are known to be the “fixers” who can solve all problems.

5. They cannot bear to see how much the person is suffering, so they feel compelled to help stop the suffering.

6. They have a very close relationship with the other person, so it would be rude not to offer advice when it is needed.

7. For the person’s own good, they want to persuade that person to do something other than what s/he is planning to do.

8. They feel so strongly about the issue that they cannot keep from offering some advice.

9. They feel uncomfortable if they cannot solve a problem when others tell them about it.

10. The moment they hear the story, they know exactly what the person needs to change, so they advise what s/he needs to do.

Managers often feel that they are expected to solve any problem that their employees bring to them. Few people like to be told what to do, and this is true of employees. Managers can better serve their employees if they simply act as a sounding board to help guide their staff to develop their own solutions.

When employees are allowed the freedom to think for themselves and the autonomy to act, within reasonable limits, they will have a sense of ownership of the solution. Then their commitment to a task or a project will be much stronger and the results will likely be more potent.

Managers who struggle to reconcile their responsibility to lead with their responsibility to develop their staff will find the OARS model to be a useful tool.

OARS is an acronym for four basic skills:

O = Open Questions

A = Affirmations

R = Reflective Listening

S = Summarizing

Using the OARS Model can help us to stop rushing to give advice and offering solutions. Instead, we can use OARS to guide our employees to their own solutions rather than telling them what to do.

Open Questions

Open questions are questions that do not elicit a yes/no answer. They allow the person to respond in a flexible way. Instead of us talking and giving advice, our employee will do most of the talking. A good mantra for this is: “Ask before you tell.”

Examples of open questions:

  • How can I help you today?”
  • What did you to avoid this situation?”
  • What has worked in the past?”

Open questions begin with Who, What, When and How. It is best to avoid beginning an open question with Why because that can put the other person on the defensive, as in the example below:“What did you to avoid this situation?” seeks facts, while, “Why didn’t you try to avoid this situation?” seeks a justification.


Affirmations are expressions of emotional support or encouragement. They are a way for a manager to acknowledge the positive aspects of an employee’s performance or behavior. Affirmations are a powerful tool for reminding colleagues that they have the ability to solve problems or overcome challenges.

Affirmations can be offered as statements of appreciation or understanding, or as positive feedback.

Examples of affirmations:

  • “I am so glad you came to share this with me today. I know it isn’t easy to talk about this issue.”​
  • “You really took the initiative when you established the new protocol to prevent future thefts from the warehouse. I am very impressed!”

Reflective ListeningReflective listening is a communication strategy that involves two key steps: (1) seeking to understand the speaker’s message, then (2) paraphrasing the message to confirm that the idea has been understood. This gives speakers an opportunity to “hear” their own words, feelings and behaviors reflected back to them. We can use reflective listening to help an employee make a decision, find a solution to a problem, or consider behavioral changes. Reflections should be used at least twice as often as questions. The more reflections and the fewer questions, the better the outcome of the conversation.

Example of reflective listening:

  • (Employee): “I was hoping this would never happen, but it did, and at the worst moment when we were just about to launch a new product.”
  • Reflective Listening: (Manager): “It sounds like you knew that it could happen and you thought that the likelihood was low.”
  • (Employee): “Yes, exactly. This is what I mean. Although it was theoretically possible, but very unlikely, it still happened.”

SummarizingSummarizing is the act of giving a brief restatement of the main points that have been said. Just as with reflective listening, summarizing may also involve paraphrasing. Offering a short summary from time to time during a conversation may help to refresh the employee’s train of thought and get the conversation back on track, if needed. It also offers another opportunity to reflect on what has been said so far. Summarizing at the end of the conversation will help to close the conversation. If the employee has come up with a plan of action, summarizing is a way to repeat the plan to employee for confirmation.

Examples of summarizing statements:

  • “A minute ago, you said you wanted to talk about… , but now… “
  • “So, we’ve agreed that you will write a new report and then we will discuss it again when you are ready.”

The next time you start to give unsolicited advice, grab your OARS to help your employees find the solution on their own.



Deborah Spring Laurel is the President of Laurel and Associates, Ltd., a certified woman-owned small business that builds and strengthens managerial, employee development and technical skills through the design and delivery of participatory classroom training on a national and international basis. If you would like your participants to leave training with practical skills that they can use immediately, or you would like your trainers to facilitate quality programs that effectively achieve their learning goals, contact Deborah at or contact Deborah directly at (608) 255-2010 or [email protected]. To see over 650 training tips, go to her blog at