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Giving Advice/Criticism

Henry Mein

Dec 20, 2006
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Suppose someone asks you for advice about their wardrobe -- you think they look "a little too sterile." Just saying you look sterile is likely to ellicit a defensive response and then a stalemate with no positive change in their appearance to follow. How would you present the advice so that it's followed? Particularly when a person's initial reaction is likely to be disagreement?

A more general point, how do you criticize someone who is proud and has invested energy into choices, but is in some fairly important way "off."

Even more generally, this also applies to advising clients (in any enterprise). It's one challenge to come up with the right analysis, and its an entirely different challenge to present it in a way that can keep egos in tact and allow someone to take the advice.

Here's what I've come up with so far:

*Being slightly more modest than your expertise allows is really helpful. This can take the form of encouraging someone to solicit other opinions, (what else?), (as a corrolary, it's also helpful to increase the person's perception of your expertise since you cna only be so modest when criticizing someone) ...

*It's also really helpful to highlight early what's right about what the person is saying. This makes it less likely that the person thinks they are being misunderstood.

Any other suggestions ... the example came up in a fashion context, but it's a more general point (it definitely applies to me, as a budding attorney).

Brian SD

Feb 5, 2004
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You have to first understand why they dress the way they do, then let them figure out for themselves that they dress badly. Direct criticism always elicits defensive responses, as you know.

Maybe suggest, "I see you like to wear a lot of brown, and so I think you might be able to really enhance your current wardrobe by throwing in some light blue or some pink, as they go well together." That would start you off on the right foot, eventually you want to get them to transform their entire wardrobe, but they won't see how ****** it was before until they have new and improved stuff shoved in their faces.

That's my advice, really. I do similar things with clients for design. Never criticize a client, you just have to present them with enough information that they realize they're wrong.


Stylish Dinosaur
Apr 2, 2005
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If somebody asks me for advice (I have NEVER given unsolicited advice), I start by saying "Well, what would look great is..." or "what might emphasize (name of good feature here) is...." Avoid actually pointing out anything negative. I'd also avoid getting too involved, giving instead a couple of general pointers and leave it at that. If they want more advice, they'll ask. I have one friend who does, and so far it's worked fairly well. I have a couple of other friends/acquaintances who've only asked for general tips, and so that's all I've given them.


Distinguished Member
Mar 15, 2006
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It always helps to know how someone wants to be perceived. That can open the door to pointing out that the desired perception is not the actual perception. Options are good, if not radically different from what someone is used to and not presented as imposition of one's personal tastes or some rules. It's true that people do not want to be told (even implicitly) to stop wearing certain items. Nobody likes feeling dumb. Sincere compliments and respect for someone's wishes always help.

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