A penny for your thoughts – how to resist giving advice

We’ve all had that conversation with a friend or even a session coaching with a client, when we are tempted to give them our advice and opinion. Sometimes, they’ve asked for advice. Other times, it’s completely unsolicited.

Of course, giving advice generally comes from a place of good intentions. Nonetheless, we forget that we are on the outside, looking in. Our view of the situation is colored by our perspective and experience. And if we’re young and arrogant, we mistakenly think we know it all!

This can lead to reactions like “but you don’t really understand” or “I tried that and it didn’t work”.

I realize, there are times when you just can’t help it. You have a strong point of view and it comes tumbling out (for me, that’s typically on the subject of dieting and I always want to rush in with intuitive eating and total choice as an alternative). Obviously, a better option is always to model the behavior and example we want others to copy, rather than trying to tell them with our good advice!

While we want to solve the problem, and jump in to save them, we forget it’s not ours to solve. Giving them advice is self-centered – it’s focusing on our perspective, rather than theirs. And 9/10 times, it doesn’t work!

Why giving advice doesn’t work

For starters, everyone wants to maximize their personal freedom and decision-making. So, unless they have come to you for advice (and are paying you for that advice – as a lawyer or accountant or another professional) they probably won’t follow the advice, no matter how good it is.

I don’t always learn my lesson. But when I do, you can bet I learned it the hard way.

Unknown

When people come talking about their troubles, they don’t really want advice. They come to us to be a sounding board. In some cases, simply to be heard.

In all cases, they are typically defiant – they want to pick their poison. And if you remember that any advice you give is simply from your particular perspective, you’ll be able to notice your experiences that make up that advice. You might notice the lens through which you are viewing the situation, and how you perceive the world and the situation to be.

Can you see how it is different from how they are looking at the situation?

You only know the details that they have shared with you, not the whole story. They may have omitted emotions, thoughts and prior experiences with similar situations.

The human soul does not want to be fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed – to be seen, heart and companioned as it is.

Parker J. Palmer

Ask questions instead

One of the common axioms of coaching: “Say less, ask more”.

Consider how the following questions might allow them to gain perspective on the situation and come up with their own solution:

  • Why do you think you’re having this problem?
  • When did it start?
  • How do you feel about the situation that you’re facing?

Questions will lead the client to look at the situation from a fresh perspective, so that they can discover potential answers and solutions of their own.

Further questions to delve into include:

  • What solutions have you attempted so far?
  • What are you comfortable trying?
  • Did you put 100% of your effort into this or could you have done more?
  • We’re you consisten with your efforts? Did you have an action plan or strategy and stick to it?
  • Did you give up too early?

There’s so much power in staying curious for longer.

The power of silence

One of the strongest tools for a coach is silence. Dropping a question and then sitting in silence.

Silence amplifies the moment. If the client is uncomfortable with the question and their answer, their discomfort will be amplified. You might even feel uncomfortable in the silence and want to fill it.

Don’t.

Notice your own discomfort and allow it also to grow. Something amazing happens in this silence. You might get desperate to fill the void of the silence / hold back. Allow the client to fill that void.

Let the silence do the work for you, without jumping in with another question or with advice.

Just because you know the answer, don’t give it.

Silence will spur the client into deeper reflection and when they finally clutch the elusive answer, they will cherish it much more than if you had easily given it to them!

A place for sharing stories and life experiences

One fo the reasons that we are hired as coaches is because clients see us as having more life and professional experience than they have. Nonetheless, when we do share from our experience, there is still a need to be careful to present it as a model of possible solutions, rather than as advice.

It’s helpful when we are presenting our stories to remind the client the limitations of our story or experience (it is similar, but not identical to what you are going through).

Always keep in mind, also, that there is a fine line between sharing with them and making this about you! Keep the attention on the client and their experience.

If necessary, ask yourself – what is my purpose in sharing this experience with the client?

  • Does this show that I support and empathize with them?
  • Am I sharing this to highlight an alternative perspective?
  • Do I want them to see how knowledgeable and experienced I am?

In all cases, make sure that you bring the attention and focus of the session back to the client and their situation. Remind them of the options that they have identified before them, and ask them how this story or experience might elucidate what they are experiencing.

Finishing the coaching session

As you are drawing the session to a close, you might find the following questions helpful:

  • As you tackle this situation, what’s the real challenge for you?
  • What outcome do you want? Does this outcome satisfy your needs? How can you feel safe and secure as you are contemplating these options?
  • If you say YES to X, what are you saying NO to?
  • What are you committed to doing as we finish this session?

Of course, I can’t end this without pointing out that here I am, giving you advice. Yes, it’s a bit of a paradox, and I will try to not stand on a soapbox.

So, I’ll end this with a question for you:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received that you failed to follow and you wish you had in hindsight?

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