‘I know exactly what you should do.’; ‘Why don’t you do this?’; ‘I have been in your shoes, here is what you do.’ How often do you receive unsolicited advice? All the time? How often do you give unsolicited advice? Too often? Human beings are advice-giving maniacs and it’s not helpful.
Don’t get me wrong, guiding and giving advice has its time and place. But what I see in the world of work (and personal life) is that people give advice too quickly without considering the consequences or considering if this is the best intervention at the time.
An Advice-Giving Maniac
I was working with a leader in the marketing industry who wanted my help to develop his team. He had been hired from another firm and inherited this team of project delivery managers who had been with the company for some time. He told me that he felt he needed to prove himself and show the team the expertise he brought. But he noticed that they weren’t taking his guidance, hardly reacting to his direction and usually went off to do it their own way.
We explored his interactions and leadership style, and it became clear that he fell into the category of ‘advice-giving maniac’. He hardly asked any questions, knew very little about his team’s behavioural preferences or strengths, and was mostly directive and authoritative. No wonder his team didn’t follow his advice. They felt disempowered and misunderstood. The morale was low, not a good start for a team leader in a new role.
‘It gets really tricky giving advice. The older I get, the less advice I give.’ – Ann Heche
I see this way too often; leaders giving well-meant but ineffective advice without considering the team member(s) or the situation. It often results in reports landing in the drawer, never to be seen again, projects not implemented, and behaviours that don’t change.
On a personal level, it can lead to frustration and misunderstanding, unnecessary conflict and a decline in trust. People who don’t feel empowered, don’t engage and we see a lack of personal development. This in turn, results in poor decision making and subpar performance. We do all this work on strategising and consulting our people with very little outcome. This can have substantial negative financial consequences for the individual, the team and the organisation.
Why do People Love Giving Advice?
- When people give advice, they feel powerful and sharing their expertise gives them a feeling of validation. In short, it’s ego-driven.
- They also have a preference for their own solutions and are biased to what they already know. Giving advice puts them in a position of solidifying that bias.
- Often, people think they are helpful. After all, they have the perfect answer and the best solution. They don’t mean bad but are not aware of the damage they do.
- They have not learned how to skillfully give (and as a matter of fact, ask for) advice. This HBR article says: ‘Receiving guidance is often seen as the passive consumption of wisdom. And advising is typically treated as a matter of “good judgment”—you either have it or you don’t—rather than a competency to be mastered.’
What’s Going Wrong
- Overstepping boundaries: people give unsolicited advice meaning they are not being asked to or they give bad advice, e.g. they are not qualified or experienced to give advice. This reminds me of the many ‘armchair experts’.
- Not understanding the problem fully: giving advice when people don’t fully understand is what I see the most in workplaces. Leaders don’t ask questions in fear of looking incompetent or they ‘think’ they completely understand the situation.
- ‘If I was in your shoes’: this is when people give ‘pseudo empathetic’ advice. They think they understand the situation the other person is in but without having a coaching conversation, this approach is often self-centred.
- Unhelpful advice: Advice giving can often result in vague recommendations without guidance or specific advice on how to solve the problem. That often leaves the other person confused with more questions than before or leads to procrastination
Effective advice-giving is an important part of leadership. Part of our job as leaders is to guide our people, make courageous decisions and manage risk. Leaders are often under time constraints and a projects’ success is dependent on the right decision through advice by the expert leader.
Giving advice also helps people learn and grow from experienced leaders, how they come to decisions and solve certain problems. It helps shape their own decision-making process and they feel empowered in their own leadership journey. I remember some of the best line managers I worked with. I learned from observing them and taking their advice. But more often than not, I asked for their advice rather than receiving unsolicited advice.
‘The people sensible enough to give good advice are usually sensible enough to give none.’ – Eden Phillpotts
The Coaching Approach
Get on the same page with the other person and get more information first. Use open questions to not only explore the situation but also to help the other person to explore opportunities and potential solutions. When you coach someone through a challenge, you find, more often than not, they arrive at their own solution, which in turn means they take more ownership and act upon it.
Some examples of open questions:
- ‘What do you mean by…?’
- ‘What information do you have right now?’
- ‘What else?’
- ‘What does it look like….?’
- ‘What are other challenges?’
- ‘What is most important?’
- ‘Who is important?’
These are just a few examples. The important thing is to ask questions that expand the other person’s thinking. Don’t focus on finding the solution right away; get them to explore the situation or challenge with a systems lens and gaining perspective.
I find that most leaders have a ‘preferred’ or ‘default’ way of intervening. Being more mindful in customising our response to the situation and to what’s most helpful for the other person is what makes us more successful in giving effective advice.
I find Heron’s Six Categories of Intervention helpful:
I probably use Catalytic and Informative mostly with my own team and Prescriptive when onboarding new team members. I feel comfortable in all segments but probably prefer Facilitative over Authoritative. There is no right or wrong. It just gives me a model with opportunities to consider different approaches and give advice more intentionally.
This model combined with some coaching training helped my client to shift from Authoritative to more Facilitative interventions. He used the Catalytic approach, set expectations but empowered his team members to take ownership and simply offered his support. It took a few weeks, but he managed to turn it around and he was open about the mistakes he had made. He stopped being an advice-giving maniac.
Which one are you? More Facilitative or more Authoritative? And which one could you use more?
No matter which one you chose and use, keep in mind that asking questions and using a coaching approach strengthens all of these interventions.
Get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org to expel your advice-giving manic tendencies and learn how to use a Coaching Approach.