MRO Magazine

How to Give Advice

Don't you love making suggestions? But before you start offering an abundance of new tips and advice to your co-workers, hold on for a moment. Some folks don't take well to unsolicited suggestions. Sometimes they may perceive suggestions as meddli...


April 1, 2004
By Richard G. Ensman, Jr.

Don’t you love making suggestions? But before you start offering an abundance of new tips and advice to your co-workers, hold on for a moment. Some folks don’t take well to unsolicited suggestions. Sometimes they may perceive suggestions as meddling, critical or even insulting. So offering a suggestion or two may involve a touch of diplomacy and finesse in your communication style.

Next time you want to pass a suggestion along, use one or two of these tips. They’ll help you get the right message across in the right way. More important, they’ll help you produce the result you want:

Offer compliments. If you’re not sure whether your suggestion will be treated positively, be sure to offer gracious praise for something that’s been done in the past. For example: “You did a great job improving the shop layout. I have an idea that might take this improvement a step further.”

Match style. What communication style does your colleague prefer? If he likes to analyze suggestions, a written report might be the best way to offer it. If he’s more of a “tactile” person, you might offer a hands-on demonstration. If he values face-to-face, relationship-focused communication, you might offer your suggestion over coffee.

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Build support. If your suggestion involves a number of individuals, ask their opinions and solicit their feedback before you go on record with it. For example: “I’m thinking about suggesting a change in our preventive maintenance procedures. Let me tell you what I’m thinking and get your reaction.”

Find the right person. If you’re working in a small enterprise, it’s easy to identify the person who can make your suggestion become real. In larger organizations, you may have to ask around. Once you identify the person who can respond most effectively, use your personal network to involve that individual in your plans.

Show results. When suggesting something, speak in terms of the positive results and benefits everyone will achieve once your suggestion is implemented and working. The more specific the outcomes, the better.

Make it complete. Don’t throw a suggestion on the table that’s only half-developed, especially if it involves a complex issue. Suggestions that are well thought out attract the most support.

Make it practical. If the suggestion is complex or costly, be prepared to show how it can happen. And if the suggestion involves expenditures of dollars, be prepared to talk about investment and payback.

Stay positive. Even the most brilliant of suggestions may have detractors. Whatever criticism you face, don’t respond in kind. Instead, focus even more intently on the good that will come out of your suggestion.

Listen. Despite your best efforts, others may not fully understand what you’re proposing. Or they may point out weaknesses. Whatever the case, be prepared to listen to colleagues, critics and naysayers. At the very least, you’ll understand others’ points of view. And at best, you’ll learn enough to sharpen your suggestion.

Richard G. Ensman, Jr., is a regular contributor to Machinery & Equipment MRO.