Open Up or Close Down?

How we approach advice heavily influences how it is received.  When we walk into a discussion with someone, we have a choice to be open or closed, whether it is our minds, ears, ideas or feedback.

What does it look like to be open?

Being open means open to the possibility…

  • That this person understands the nature of his or her issue and what needs to be done, but would appreciate a sounding board.
  • That they have considered alternatives we might offer and have valid reasons why they have discounted them.
  • That we have not been in this situation and the best we can offer is support and understanding, but not advice.

Being closed is the opposite.  It shuts down the possibility…

  • That someone else might have a valid idea outside of our own.
  • That we do not have the experience to offer advice.
  • That we are only needed to be a sounding board or helping hand.


If we are perceived as closed, our advice will not be received by the person we are trying to help.  Our intent is not nearly as important as how our message is received.  We can help influence reception through framing – positioning the advice in a way that makes it easier to receive.

Closed language includes statements such as “you need to remember something”, “you fail to realize” or “ you have obviously not considered.”  These are all negative assumptions.  Assumptions, because we do not know that this individual has not considered or thought of something .

We do not know because we have not asked.  By assuming, the person we are trying to help will likely shut down.  This eliminates any possibility of meaningful dialogue, creating frustration on both sides.

Open language begins with questions or room for alternate perspectives and ideas….possibilities.  Start with questions let us learn how we are needed:

  • It sounds like you are in a tough position, how can I help?
  • I have been through a similar situation.  Are you looking for ideas on how to best move forward or do you just need me to listen?
  • I’m sorry you are having such a rough time.  I have never been in your situation, but I’d like to help.  What can I do?

Once there is confirmation that advice is what is needed, versus a sounding board or a strong shoulder, leave room for their insights to this point.  Even asking “have you considered?” goes a long way to recognizing that he or she considered various alternatives.  Maybe even the one we want to suggest.

When they explain what they have considered and why, we have the opportunity to learn more about the situation at hand.  We may also have the chance to provide additional perspectives or input that has not been considered, but only after showing we are open to the possibility.

Ultimately, approaching advice as an open door, letting someone walk thru as they need – rather than as we want – ensures the door remains open.  If we close off the communication through assumption, it’s like talking at a closed door.  Nothing is getting through.


Have you experienced open and closed advice?  How likely are you to respond to one versus the other?  I’d love if you could share your feedback in the comments and keep the conversation going.