Why Giving Pointers After the Fact Is Better Than Giving Advice Going Forward

This article is about the often overlooked importance of properly timing your advice to others.


Teaching as an Innate Process

The process of encouraging someone to understand the lessons you learned in your lived experience is difficult, to say the least. Teaching is the name we give the vehicle we take that journey on; we do so by supplementing our teachings with evidence, materials, studies, and examples.

We seldom take on a formal teaching role in our everyday social experiences. Dialogue with others consists of casual back and forths. We converse in statements, gather information with questions, and work together to solve issues by teaching others what we know whilst being taught what we don’t.


The Timing Seems Self Evident

When it’s time to give advice, timing plays a critical role. Seeing a familiar process playing out is difficult to resist interrupting when we have a good idea of what’s in store.

We often consider interjecting as a given when watching someone make a mistake that we’ve already made without yet realizing they’ve made it. Presenting your advice prior to that mistake’s effects coming to fruition may very well be a mistake you make yourself.


The Balance of Sacrificing Autonomy for Information

The mistake that you’re susceptible to making as you try to intervene – in what you deem to be an incorrect course of action – is centered in maintaining autonomy.

When thinking back at the most effective lessons you learned prior, ensure to remember the role that autonomy and ownership played in the process. It’s no secret that the lessons we learned stick more when we’re the ones who fully own the mistakes, transitions, and recoveries encompassed in those lessons.

There are many steps which lead to the acquisition of a lesson learned. The deed of learning the lesson is one of the last steps in that process, with only that lesson’s implementation in the real world following suit. All the factors you have to go through prior to actually learning that lesson involve your direct participation to be effective.

A lack of autonomy and ownership is the reason why learning something from a book is never as effective as going through it in the physical form. When the stakes are real, and the mistakes felt, the lessons are poignant.

Remember, that with each instance of interjection, your student loses a little bit of ownership and autonomy in the process. With each one of your interjections, the lesson learned is bound to stick a little less in the long term.

There needs to be a decision made on your part thereby.


When Is the Time to Give Advice?

The determinant of a lesson being learned is an evaluation after taking a series of steps toward a certain goal.

For example:

  • Goal: Make an omelet.
  • (Series of steps)
  • Evaluation: Edible?
  • Lesson: The series of steps were either successful, or not successful in making an edible omelet.

A lesson is learned notwithstanding whether such an evaluation is passed or failed. If a person fails an evaluation of the steps they took toward a goal, then the lesson becomes one of fixing their mistakes in an effort to achieve that goal.

For instance, the goal of learning introductory algebra may be evaluated with tests for every chapter in a textbook. Should a student fail an evaluation, they’d need to go back and relearn the sections they performed poorly on.

On the other hand, a weekend carpenter may have a goal of building himself an office table. The series of steps he takes toward that goal would be the process of assembly. His evaluation would consist of whether that table bears the proper amount of weight and doesn’t creek around once it’s set up.

The point of evaluation is the important thing for you to keep in mind. Whenever possible, try to present your advice after the evaluation of a goal being met is either passed or failed by the student in your life.

At that point, any mistakes or successes they see from the steps they took toward that goal will be their own. Your role in the matter would lessen but remain just as helpful.


When It’s Not a Risk Worth Taking

As you’re determining whether you should intervene in teaching someone a lesson in life, determine whether the risk of not stepping in outweighs the benefit of encouraging that person’s full ownership of the lesson.

If the risk of something going wrong is deemed to be too dangerous – both physically and psychologically – then it’s best to intervene and sacrifice the student’s ownership over that lesson.

Be careful in making this decision however, as experiences you deem to be painful may in fact be worth going through for the individual.

Focus on the metric of how easy something gone wrong would be for the individual in question to fix. Allow people to take full ownership of lessons if a possible pitfall is fixable – with the individual being able to fully recover themselves. In such a case, it’s best to allow these people to make the mistake without needing to interject.

The less fixable a potential pitfall is, the likelier you should interject prior to that pitfall being made.


When Autonomy Is Lost

You’d be doing a disservice if you make a habit out of stripping those around you of their ownership of the lessons they learn.

A loss of autonomy over our decisions as we take a series of steps toward a goal encourages detachment from the results.

Another entity would be introduced into our performance of evaluated tasks, so the nuances within those evaluations would be easy to shift responsibility for. The introduction of detachment and opportunity to divert the ownership of mistakes is a critical pitfall for a student whose best interest is to learn a lesson in full.

Not mentioning the positive physical and psychological experiences of making mistakes and fixing them, the deeper detachment to outcomes you’d introduce is worth avoiding.

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Disclaimer of Opinion: This article is presented only as opinion. It does not make any scientific, factual, or legal claims. Please critically analyze all claims made and independently decide on its validity.