Advice-giving and Facework

A summary of my findings about advice-giving appears in chapter 4 of my book, Communicating Social Support (Cambridge University Press, 2004).  My approach to advice-giving considers the appropriateness of offering problem-solving assistance in a particular situation, the wisdom of the advised action, the style of conveying advice, the other types of statements that accompany advice, and the sequencing of advice in the course of a conversation.  Taken together, my findings show the usefulness of attending to communication processes in the study of social support. Face work emerges as a central communication process and my findings also engage with politeness theory.

My research also provides a basis for advice about advice giving, including the following recommendations (taken from Goldsmith, 2004):

  • Don’t make advice the first or only response to another person’s distress.  Sometimes people talk about problems for reasons other than seeking advice.  Listen first to show you care and to see if your advice is relevant.
  • Recognize that there’s more to advice than just solving the problem. Effective advice-givers consider how the advice makes them look, how it makes the other person look, and what it says about the relationship.
  • Attend not just to what you have to say, but what the other person may be ready to hear:  Is the other person seeking advice? Is the other person at a point, emotionally, to receive it?

The particular studies on which these conclusions are based include the following.

Goldsmith, D. J. (2000).  Soliciting advice: The role of sequential placement in mitigating face threat.  Communication Monographs, 67, 1-19.

Brown and Levinson’s (1987) politeness theory emphasizes threats to face that arise from the defining features of speech acts. In contrast, the two studies reported here demonstrate how the sequencing of acts affects type and degree office threat. By exploring these issues as they apply to the solicitation of advice, these studies also shed light on the practical problem of how to give face‐sensitive advice. Study 1 proposes a typology of six advice sequences derived from ethnographic observation of 93 advice‐giving episodes among white, middle‐class, college educated Americans. Study 2 tests whether the six types of sequence differ in perceived advice solicitation and regard for face by asking 420 college students to rate sample dialogues. Results show the sequential placement of advice has a significant and substantial effect on the degree to which advice is seen as solicited and this, in turn, is associated with perceived regard for face.

Goldsmith, D. J., & MacGeorge, E. L. (2000).  The impact of politeness and relationship on perceived quality of advice about a problem.  Human Communication Research, 26, 234-263.

Advice is a common but potentially problematic way to respond to someone who is distressed. Politeness theory (Brown & Levinson, 1987) suggests advice threatens a hearer’s face and predicts that the speaker-hearer relationship and the use of politeness strategies can mitigate face threat and enhance the effectiveness of advice messages. Students (N = 384) read I of 16 hypothetical situations that varied in speaker power and closeness of the speaker-hearer relationship. Students then read I of 48 advice messages representing different politeness strategies and rated the message for regard shown for face and for effectiveness. Perceived regard for face predicted evaluations of message effectiveness. However, neither speaker-hearer relationship nor politeness strategies was consistently associated with perceived threat to face or perceived advice effectiveness. We suggest revisions to politeness theory and additional factors that may affect judgments of face sensitivity and advice effectiveness.

Goldsmith, D. J. (1999).  Content-based resources for giving face-sensitive advice in troubles talk episodes.  Research on Language and Social Interaction, 32, 303-336.

Advice is a common but potentially face threatening response to a friend or loved one who is upset about a problem. Consequently, it is useful to identify ways a speaker may show regard for face in this kind of episode. This article examines how content accompanying advice may show regard for face. In so doing, the article accounts for sources of face threat and resources for face work that are overlooked in Brown and Levinson’s (1987) politeness theory. Study 1 found there are common types of topics in college students’ responses to a friend who has experienced a problem. Study 2 shows how some types of topics are associated with students’ perceptions that an advice giver shows greater or lesser regard for an advice recipient’s face.

Goldsmith, D. J., & Fitch, K. (1997).  The normative context of advice as social support.  Human Communication Research, 23, 454-476.

Much of the existing research on social support overlooks the communicative processes that link supportive acts to beneficial effects. The present study represents an alternative approach: The authors document the multiple goals and implications of advice and the situational, conversational, and cultural context far the evaluation of advice among some White, middle-class, U.S. Americans. On the basis of observation of 112 advice episodes and interviews with 18 informants, the authors identify three dilemmas of seeking, receiving, and giving advice: Advice may be seen as helpful and caring or as butting in; advice may be experienced as honest or supportive; and seeking and taking advice may enact respect and gratitude, yet recipients reserve the right to make their own decisions. The identification of these dilemmas provides the basis for future research on the characteristics of more and less effective advice and for comparative research on advice in other speech communities.

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