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9 principles to improve your people skills
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People tend to get offended when you start with "you do this" or "you have a tendency to ..." It goes over much better when you say "I have found that when I Speak to what you personally know and feel instead of making statements about them. - photo by Kim Giles

I have some friends who complain constantly about their problems but get offended if I give them any advice on fixing whats wrong. Do they just want to stay where they are? Should I just listen? Is that a good friend? Or is there anything else I can do to get them to listen to me and make changes? Maybe Im giving advice the wrong way?


We all know people we would like to advice, change, or help, but we must handle these situations the right way or people will get offnded, turn a deaf ear or even passive aggressively dig further into their bad behavior.

To give advice the right way you must understand a few basic principles of human behavior. These principles will help you to understand why people react negatively to advice and how you can create a safe space for advice that wont offend.

This is great information for parents, managers and leaders.

Principle 1: Remember everyone on the planet is battling a deep core fear of failure (a fear that they arent good enough), and this fear causes a great deal of pain.

We also have subconscious programs which encourage us to avoid anything that might trigger this fear. We are never excited about conversations around our need to change because they obviously mean we arent good enough now. The more subconscious fear of failure a person has, the less open they are to advice. This is unfortunate because they are the ones who need the advice most, but this is still how it works.

When people have good self-esteem they can handle feedback without pain or fear, but most people dont have good self-esteem.

Principle 2: People will not be open to advice or changing themselves until they first feel fully accepted as they are right now.

If they dont feel accepted now, they will insist on staying where they are until you do. Dont be discouraged by this. You can fully accept someone as they are right now (even with behaviors you dont like) and create a safe space where they will be more open to changing. You just have to focus on their intrinsic worth and remember it matters more than their current behavior. Never lose sight of the truth, that they are a one of a kind, irreplaceable being with the same value as you. Loving them unconditionally must come first. Once they feel your love they will be more open to your influence.

Principle 3: Listening to them and validating them honoring and respecting their right to be who they are is what most people need most.

Listening to someone validates their intrinsic worth. Listening without giving advice is a great gift and remember being an active listener is more than just nodding and repeating what they say. A good listener is also a good question-asker. You can often help someone figure out what they need to change on their own by just asking questions that help them look at the problem from different perspectives. The most powerful way to help another person is to empower them to help themselves.

Principle 4: The person to whom this challenge belongs the one who is in the class is the only one entitled to inspiration about his or her situation.

You may have been in a similar situation but that doesnt mean your right answer is the right answer for them. They are the only one who will know which path is their perfect journey, so dont forget this and presume to know better.

As a life coach, I have learned most people already know the answers to their problems, they just dont trust themselves. They are hoping we will tell them what they already know to quiet their fears of being wrong. Don't let them use you as a crutch. It doesn't serve them. Keep asking questions about what they think and feel until they own their inner truth. This technique also leaves room for their inner guidance to direct them. All the answers they need God and the universe will provide. If they arent getting the answer yet, they may not be ready for it, or they may still have lessons to learn in this place.

When they are ready and if you are the right teacher for this lesson, you may feel prompted to share and give advice, but make sure you use the fifth principle first.

Principle 5: Always ask permission before you share your story, give advice, make suggestions or tell someone what you think.

This makes a person feel honored and respected, and it means they really are open to hear you. Never tell another person anything unless you have asked permission to go there first.

A permission question may sound like:

  • Would you be open to another perspective on this?
  • "Would you be open to an observation?"
  • Would you be open to a little advice or would you just like me to be here and listen?
  • Would you be willing to let me share a couple ideas?
Then wait for a yes.

If they say no, respect that. Respecting how they feel this time will build a relationship of trust where they will be more likely to trust you next time. Parents, your teens will feel respected when you honor their "no" and they will respect you more back.

Principle 6: Use more "I" statements than "you" statements. People tend to get offended when you start with "you do this" or "you have a tendency to ..." It goes over much better when you say "I have found that when I Speak to what you personally know and feel instead of making statements about them.

Principle 7: Focus more on future behavior than past behavior. People get defensive and frustrated when you talk about their past bad behavior because they cant change it. Instead, focus on their future behavior because that they have control over. Would you consider in the future, moving forward, working on ? Do you think moving forward it might help to ? Also notice how phrasing suggestions as questions delivers them in a softer way.

Principle 8: Base any advice you give on principles of truth. Here are some basic truths which help people to see themselves and their situation more accurately. Most people know these, but they forget them in times of crisis when they are emotional or scared.

Life truths:

  • Life is classroom and every experience a lesson.
  • You are here to learn, grow and love.
  • Nothing you do or think and nothing anyone else does or thinks can diminish you.
  • Your value is infinite and absolute.
  • Your lifes journey is the perfect classroom for you, for one reason or another.
  • Fear is the root cause of every problem.
  • The way we escape fear is by choosing trust and love.
  • Love means seeing people as the same as you.
  • Love means choosing to give validation to others instead of being focused on getting validation. This doesnt mean you give them what they want, it means you value who they are.
  • All bad behavior is a request for love or attention.
  • Love is almost always the answer to every problem.
  • Sometimes this means loving others, but sometimes it means loving yourself.
  • Reminding someone of these truths is a good place to start after you ask permission to talk, and you cannot lead them astray if you focus on principles.
Principle 9: Recognize when professional help is needed. If someone is dealing with addiction, mental illness, depression or any other serious crisis situation, you must refer them to a mental health professional, counselor, therapist or doctor. If you arent sure whether a professional is appropriate, err on the side of caution and recommend it anyway.

You can do this.