Cat and dog waiting on a bench

Giving advice can be an art and a difficult one to master.  To influence others, we must be able to get our message across without offending or putting them on the defensive. Here are some thoughts to guide your approach:

Do not judge or jump to conclusions.  Once you have passed judgment on someone, you have effectively turned what needs to be a dialogue into a sermon, and what you really need to happen is a dialogue, otherwise the chances of your advice falling on deaf ears increases greatly.  You don’t want to start off on the wrong foot by making someone defensive.  Accept that at that point, what’s done is done, and focus on how to improve the situation.  Try opening with an open question about their pet – how long they’ve had them, ask questions.  You may find out that the situation is not what it appears to an outsider, and it will give you openings to start to a conversation on the topic you’re concerned about. 

Empathize!  Put yourself in their shoes – have you ever been in a similar situation, like losing your dog through an open gate?  Think about what you learned, how you felt, and use that as a launching pad for the lesson you learned through the experience or similar experiences. 

Be realistic about the advice you are giving and tailor it to the circumstances of the person you are talking to – if times are tough economically, they might not be able to afford that expensive private trainer you want to recommend for their dog’s separation anxiety. 

Brainstorm with the person and make finding a solution a collaboration – it will feel less like a sermon to the person you are advising, and it will help them select the tools, resources, and tips that are within their reach.  If they don’t have input, offer a variety of tips, and ask them what they think about each of them.  Try to help them consider all the alternatives, enabling them to reach a conclusion either with you or on their own.  A solution they feel like they came to on their own is one that they will be more likely to follow and see through. 

Be frank and don’t make promises about resolutions or outcomes. Even if something worked for you, or you had particular success with a training technique, you can’t guarantee they will have the same success or outcome with their pet.  Discuss the various potential outcomes relative to the advice you are extending and how to approach them, or offer alternatives. 

Walk the walk, talk the talk.  You can’t dispense advice and then do the opposite with your pets.  Your advice loses all credibility if you don’t follow it yourself. 

Be ready to offer support in the form of literature or reading material. Point them in the direction of a book that will help bolster the advice you’re giving – many people might be skeptical about a stranger or someone they don’t deem an expert giving them advice about their pets.  It’s also a great opener – “I came across this great article about automobile safety and pets.” 

Add an infusion of kindness, in your words and actions. If you are concerned for their pet’s welfare, say that, instead of launching into a lecture about irresponsible pet owners. Bring treats with you for their pets, or even a human treat!  The phrase, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is very true, and a word given in kindness is generally better received than one that is given in anger or frustration. 

Offer your support.  Making changes can sometimes be difficult for people, and if they are faced with a challenge, having someone there to offer moral support or a hand, can make a huge difference. 

“If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind.” – Buddha