How to give advice to a teammate

We’ve all been on the receiving end of advice: some good, some bad, some we inquired about, and some that was entirely unwelcome. There are many ways to offer advice, particularly in a professional environment. If you find yourself in the position to impart some wisdom upon a teammate, take a few steps back to first understand how you’ll approach them.

Back in his home country of South Africa, Asana infrastructure engineer Marco Gallotta co-founded a non-profit initiative at the University of Cape Town to bring students together with seasoned working professionals who provide hands on support and guidance for their future. Over the course of working with hundreds of students, and continuing to mentor students, new grads, interns, and young engineers, he’s picked up some key lessons for how to approach giving advice to teammates, and other individuals in his life. Follow his golden rules:

Figure out if you’re the right one (to give advice)

Advice tends to be most well-received when it comes from someone the advice seeker can relate to. Before you approach a teammate to offer advice, think about whether or not you’re the right person, and if you’re not, find a proxy — someone you believe your teammate will relate to better. Often the proxy is someone younger, who’s gone through a similar process.

When the match is ‘right’ the recipient will be much more likely to listen and have more confidence to take action. Marco says he’s often asked individuals he’s previously advised to take on the role of the proxy.

Remain neutral

When giving advice, remember that honesty really is the best policy. If a teammate asks you, “do you think this is the right job for me?” and you happen to believe the role isn’t really a fit, be honest (and specific) about what you think their best options are. Even if your advice won’t necessarily benefit you and your team, consider what the individual will gain as a result of your honest feedback.

Encourage your teammate to take a step back from the situation and evaluate their position. Ask questions like: Why am I here? Where am I going? It’s easiest to remain in the same place, but it is when we are pushed to question that we often find the answers we are looking for.

A good adviser listens more than he talks and offers few opinions. Much of the time, you should find yourself relaying back words your teammate has already spoken to help them filter out the wrong things they may believe. Inadvertently, you’ll help them think about the things they’re not spending enough time pondering about, and prevent them from overanalyzing the minor details.

Don’t assume you know the whole story

No one has the 360 view quite like the individual who’s seeking advice so remember you’re offering insight based on a sliver of an entire worldview. It’s easy to think you’ll solve all their problems in one sitting, or know, over the course of an hour-long coffee meet up, what they need.

The truth is, we’re complicated individuals in life, and at work. Take heed and make sure your advice comes across as “based on my experience” and “based on what I know.” While you may be tempted to ‘fix’ things, your ultimate goal should be to help your teammate gain a new perspective which is biased by you, help them think through their issues out loud, and either reassure them they’re on the right path, or correct their current path.

Focus on younger teammates

Mentorship doesn’t imply a relationship between young and old, but it’s definitely easier to offer advice to teammates who are earlier in their career. Not only do they have more time to change their path, they have fewer experiences to compare to and often strongly latch on to those limited experiences.

You’re much more likely to shape the path of a teammate who’s new to the workplace than one who’s already set in their ways. Take the opportunity to help them build confidence by shattering assumptions, and helping them realize their true worth. You’ll find that you’ll help your teammate see there’s a lot more to choosing the right path than the comparisons they’ve been drawing.

How do you approach giving advice to a teammate? Let us know in the comments.

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