Unhappy Truths: Giving Advice Hurts Everyone
This past Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal article, “The Perils of Giving Advice” by Elizabeth Bernstein focuses on how men and women typically give and (don’t) take advice from each other. It ties-in well to a question raised in a discussion on a previous post on this blog: To what degree can a person provide coaching when they are in a relationship?
To the extent that coaching involves direct or indirect advice-giving (and to the extent that asking questions in a coaching conversation can be perceived as ‘advice’) , the short answer to the above question is: Don’t give advice – even (and especially) in a close relationship.
According to the studies cited by the article, the problem is usually the person receiving the advice. People receiving advice don’t take it well, and will typically distort the giver’s positive intent into something negative.
I hate this finding… but grudgingly admit to its truth from experience. More on that below.
A fun tidbit from the article: In studies of male-female couples giving and receiving advice to each other, the researchers noticed different trends based on the gender of the advice recipient: In one direction (male-to-female) advice gets perceived by the (female) recipient as condescending, while in the other direction (female-to-male) advice is perceived by the (male) recipient as scolding.
Seriously, people get paid to do research to “prove” this stuff.
Blog Audit: Taking My Own Advice
Some earlier posts here on this blog reveal my ongoing personal learning and re-learning around this issue of advice-giving:
- 2.5 years ago, I wrote about the challenges and perils of giving free advice as a professional service provider… mea culpa
- 2 years ago, when looking at the issue of manager reviews and performance feedback I asked my Facebook friends for their advice about the question of why people don’t like to give candid feedback
- 2 years ago, I also wrestled with the issue of noticing a person’s undiscovered talent and giving them encouragement
- ..and a later that year, wondered about how those who need the most help are those who are the least likely to ask for it
- 1.5 years ago, I wondered about what factors make it more or less likely for a person to want to take advice from a person who wasn’t a great at demonstrating the ‘lesson’ themselves
..and of course, there’s the It’s Not About The Nail video, from earlier this month.
Also, I most recently took a break from blogging regularly in order to — yes, you guessed it — take my own advice and focus on some important long term goals.
Suffice to say, advice-giving-and-receiving is a topic of constant professional and personal concern for me. On the deepest level, this is an ongoing, four-year-old exploration of the art of giving and receiving a gift and how the Japanese tradition deals with it… even four years ago, I knew that giving a gift (like advice) is mostly a problem of how to artfully receive it… yet as the professional advice-giver, as the “take full responsibility for the conversation” guy, how to tread on these eggshells?
What I’m now challenged by is the scenario of talking to someone while I’m wearing my trainer / consultant / coach hat and noticing the other person sending me ambiguous signals about wanting / not wanting advice. They are sort-of asking me for my advice… but should I take the bait?
My Advice: Don’t Take the Bait
It’s not enough to resist giving unsolicited advice. Even when you think someone is asking you for advice, you have to be absolutely sure they actually want your advice.
Often people seem to ask for advice indirectly, but if you think that’s what they’re doing, you should still avoid taking the bait… or risk becoming bait yourself.
- If they say, “I don’t know how to do x,” don’t take the bait.
- If they say, “I could never to x,” don’t take the bait.
- If they say, “I wouldn’t be able to do x as well as you,” don’t take the bait.
- If they say, “Well, you’d probably know what to do” …don’t take the bait.
- If they say, “What do you think I should do?” …don’t take the bait..! …well okay…. maybe… just maybe… take a nibble of the bait…. and ask them back, “You want to know what I think?” and pause… and if they seem interested, give them just a teeny bit of your opinion and check to see that they’re still interested in hearing any more.
Sometimes you can simply ask up front, “Are you asking me for my advice?” though I’ve noticed that a lot of people will suddenly backpedal on the conversation by such a direct request, as if they are embarrassed. Maybe they don’t like to admit that they’re asking for help.
It seems that the I’m-not-sure-if-I-want-your-advice crowd would prefer to do a delicate dance… perhaps an exchange of little stories, quips… and some empathy.
Yes Dan, it’s not about the nail.
Let us conclude this post with something else from about four years ago… my Consultant’s Prayer:
God grant me the fortune
To have good clients;
Ability to perform well;
Integrity to deliver real value;
Courage to get paid for that value;
And discipline to take my own advice.
Posted on June 28, 2013, in Coaching, Communication Skills, Learning, Management, photography, Psychology, Talent and tagged Advice, Business, Facebook, friendship, JLA: The Nail, Person, Question, relationship, relationships, The Giver, Wall Street Journal. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.