If you are like me then you are constantly coaching and consulting people with important decisions they need to make. This is what happens when you are in the business of giving advice.

Whether it’s interns, clients, or good friends I find myself needing to say hard things and give some tough love.

Maybe you think I care too much about people’s feelings, but I love John Wooden’s quote “a coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” Of course, this has to be counter balanced with the fact that we can’t control if people take offense to things that were not meant to offend.

Here are 5 proven ways to say hard things without hurting someone’s feelings…or at least these are the most likely ways to effectively give good advice.
  1. Get permission often – Get people to ask for your help. Frame your meetings or conversations as you coach and advise whenever possible. You can even say things like, “Are you sure you want my help with this?” or “OK, you want to know what I would do?” or even “You may not like this, but I will share my thoughts with you if you would like me too.” It doesn’t matter how much is already inferred. Asking for permission to advise is always good.
  2. Talk with “hats” – This sounds funny but it actually helps to say things like, “OK, I’m going to put on the friend hat here…” Or “OK, I’m wearing the Coach hat here and…” There is something about framing the conversation as to where are you are coming from that really helps.
  3. Show that you really care – People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Taking the time to listen and relate to those that talk to you is important. So many people want and long for validation. Give it sincerely where ever you can.
  4. Highlight the good stuff and reinforce the positive – They say that a person has to hear 7 good things for every one constructive piece of criticism. I don’t know if you can really do that, but remind yourself of that and the people you are talking to from time to time. Try to balance it all out with sincere compliments when ever possible.
  5. Use the right voice – It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. I’m sure you have heard that before, and it is very true. Being calm and smiling can be good most the time. However, sometimes you do need to say it directly and maybe even bluntly. Most times you should be soft with patience, but sometimes you need to just give it to them right between the eyes. Learn to know the difference between those times.

I’d love to say I am perfect at this, but just being aware of these techniques gives me opportunities to be better. The more aware I become, the more practiced I get, and the more results I see the more I know these things work.


You could probably do these techniques half wrong and you would still be better off than not trying them at all!


Have good motives and a pure agenda. Take the doctors oath to do no harm, and don’t be afraid to say the hard things. We all need it from time to time, including me.