When is advice not advice?

advice2Following a discussion with a recent group on  “giving advice”, I delved deeper into what I mean by saying that giving advice is a useless pastime.

Just take a moment now to think of the amount of advice you have been given in your life and how often you have followed that advice to the letter. It may spark ideas, yet often it is about one person wanting to influence or take ownership of someone else’s issue. 

How often with our friends and family do we see them making grave errors and come along with a sensible piece of advice and then wonder what stops them solving the problem using our suggestion?

Statements of fact

Recently someone said to me  “I took your advice and my life has changed because of it”.  I wanted to know more and I asked what advice I had given that they took on  You told me that I could not change anyone else and to try is a waste of time, the only person I can change is me” came the reply.

Was this giving advice?  No, because I had no wish to influence what the person was thinking, I was making a ‘statement of fact’ a truth, based on my many years’ of knowledge and experience.

“You can’t change anyone else, you can only change what you think or feel about something”, is not a piece of advice it is a statement of fact, I can change my behaviour and attitude and that may or may not have an impact on someone else. A statement of fact is a universal truth. It may come across as giving advice, particularly if someone takes it on board.

However there is no intention on my part to influence, the person will accept or follow something only if it speaks to them, they are connected to taking it on board. It will only influence anyone when it has meaning for him or her.

It is just a statement of fact. Nothing else, as I am not invested in the implementation of the statement.

Shared experience

Shared“I have had a similar experience and let me tell you how I dealt with it”. This ‘shared experience ‘ is not giving advice. It creates rapport. The way I deal with something may or may not be of any help to anyone else in a similar situation.

It is not giving advice, as the intention is not to influence anyone else, or to get them to follow my example. It is about putting some information into the melting pot to create the generation of ideas: it is more about sharing and creating a bond. Is also easy for the listener to say “I don’t think I could do that, you are very brave” or “I understand what you did but that is just not my style” it creates an opportunity for a meaningful conversation.

When you are sharing your experience, there is usually no attachment to another person following your example.

However, if you have expectations that your solution will be accepted and influence how the person solves their issue, then it will drop into ‘giving advice’ as the intention is not only about sharing a common bond, but there is an agenda that your solution will also fulfill the other person’s need to find a solution. You may also seek confirmation that they will follow what you have done.

Giving advice, in a coaching setting

“If I were yau…” “you I would do this or that” “what I suggest/recommend”  Giving advice comes with the intention that the listener will expedite what is being suggested by the person giving the advice. It is usually about getting them to follow a suggestion that has been made. 

The dictionary definition of advice is: an opinion or recommendation offered as a guide to action, or conduct.

We may know theoretically what the person should or could do but may never have done it. We may lack the personal experience or real knowledge about how the advice will impact on the person and what they are trying to achieve.

Often the advice giver has an expectation that the person will follow their advice, sometimes to the letter because they believe it will bring about the required result. The advice giver can often be judgmental if their advice is not followed, “I have told you what you need to do, so just get on with it” Is the unspoken underlying sense.

When advice is given with the expectation that it will be followed, the person receiving the advice is then put into a dilemma. “I know what they said I should do but as I haven’t or can’t do it, how do I face them and tell them I have not carried out their advice.” The energy between the advice giver and the advice receiver can then develop into a power struggle.

The advice giver often takes ownership of the advice, has expectations and may not take into account that the solution offered does not fit with the character, experience or ability of the receiver. They can often invest their energy in the outcome being reached by the method they have suggested.

Advice giving usually says more about the giver than the receiver.

In conclusion

What people term as “advice” may not be advice, as it depends on the intention of the giver. It depends how invested they are in the outcome being reached in the way they suggested that it be reached. 

It is very easy for us to see what others should do and how they should solve a problem.  Some of those ideas may be exactly what we have done in the situation, some are theories that we have never managed to carry out ourselves, or have never needed to carry out.

I can give others advice about running to get fit, but if I have never done it or needed to do it, then it may not be the most helpful way to proceed.  Even if I have found this to be a solution it is not a solution for everyone who may want to get fit. Finding out what they can and will do is much more productive and they can take ownership for carrying it through.

Advice giving does not take into account the internal world and patterns of behaviour that are part of the other person’s psychology.

Most of us are great advice givers. So think before you hand out advice and see if you can couch it in, a statement of fact or a shared experience. If you can’t, then see if you can take the advice yourself first before handing it out to anyone else!

 

 

 

 

 

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