When someone tells you about their problem or dilemma, it can be hard to resist the urge to jump in with suggestions and solutions. Human beings love solving other people’s problems, even though we are often less good at solving our own. It makes us feel wanted, needed, valuable and sometimes even a bit powerful.
Intellectually though most people know that it is much more valuable and empowering for the other person if they find their own solution. Then they own it and can be responsible for it, and consequently feel pride for having resolved it themselves. In our many years of coaching and consulting we have never yet met a client for whom our solution was better than the one they came up with for themselves. Our role is to unlock their thinking and help them find the pathway to their own solutions.
The problem with advice giving is that it denies the other person the chance to find a solution for themselves and potentially find a new strategy for solving their problems in future. Before you next jump in with a piece of advice consider doing one of these instead:
- Could they observe you or someone else doing a skill that would help them with this problem? Social learning theory (Albert Bandura) and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) points to the fact that people learn well from observing others and then picking out the bits they could do for themselves and assimilate them into their own style. This is a particularly useful thing to do in an organisational context where you will have access to a range of people with great skills and abilities.
- Tell them a story about someone who had something similar and resolved it. Not exactly the same problem (that’s still advice). The purpose here is that people can then draw their own conclusions and references from the story. You can even use your own experience as long as the references are not to direct. This will also build empathy and rapport when they know other people have had similar issues and overcome them.
- Give them at least three options. If you must give advice, either because you can’t think of another way or they have asked directly for it, give them three options that could resolve the problem. This provides them with choice and the opportunity to take responsibility for their own solution.
- If someone is in a negative state, angry or distressed the only thing you should be doing is helping them with their emotional regulation. People can’t think straight if they are too emotional and get them centred and calm first before even discussing the issue at hand.
Founder of Monkey Puzzle and an INLPTA NLP Master Trainer, John is also a Clinical Hypnotherapist and author of the award winning book Real Leaders for the Real World. His new book Time Mastery; Banish Time Management Forever is out now.