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How to give advice the right way

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How to give advice the right way

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A giving culture is at the heart of a social business.  The whole notion rests on the willingness to help fellow employees.  Indeed a little while ago I wrote about the seven things you can to do help develop a giving culture in your own organisation.

I’d like to focus in this post on the topic of giving advice, and how to do it well.  Obviously in a giving culture, advice and assistance is crucial, but there are ways of doing it well, and ways of doing it badly.

David Rock’s book Quiet Leadership outlines a number of ways that advice can usually do more harm than good.  He believes that bad advice is often:

Autobiographical: It’s based on the needs and experiences of the giver, not the intended recipient.

Misdirected: It’s focused on the wrong problem. ”The dilemma that people first put forward,” Rock says, “is almost always not their main issue” because if they “were clear about the central challenge… they probably would have solved it anyway.”

Rejected: It’s virtually impossible to get people to act solely by giving them advice. People tend to reject ideas offered by others in favor of their own. In fact, Rock recommends, “if you have the exact idea that someone needs to hear, definitely don’t tell them,” as they are likely to reject it and be worse off.

As you can probably surmise from the title of the book, Rock very much recommends a more subtle approach that sees the leader coaching their peers, thus allowing them to come to the solution themselves and get the dopamine rush that often comes with that discovery.  The assistance therefore is directed not at the problem itself, but at the thought processes used to attack the problem.

If you’re in a position to give help, you probably have three options available to you:

  1. Give an answer
  2. Ask another question that helps them think further about what the answer might be, or
  3. Suggest that we brainstorm possible solutions together.

Option 2 is great, but you can obviously run the risk of seeming like you’re passing the buck and not wanting to help, and it can take an experienced giver to be able to take this approach successfully.

Option 3 however is an easier start point because you’re gaining express permission from your colleague to participate in the problem solving with them, whilst keeping them in control of finding the answer.  By focusing on creating possible solutions rather than solving the problem, you temporarily stop the judgment and critical thinking that often blocks creativity. Your goal is to collect all the solutions first, and then evaluate them later.

Of course, not all circumstances require such an approach, with some suiting a quick and direct response, but when you do have an interest in developing your teams skills and abilities, it’s hard to go wrong with a coaching style approach to giving advice.

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