Listening to client during virtual session.

Have you tried to simply listen?

Have you ever answered a question honestly, possibly sharing a personal disappointment, incident or unlikely event and someone immediately offered their unsolicited advice? You were not sharing with the desire to receive pity or judgment. You were just sharing. Yet, the receiver felt responsible for showing you the right way… their way.  As summarized by Dr. Art Markman for Psychology Today, a set of four studies led by Michael Schaerer looked at how giving advice influences a person’s sense of power.

If you are one who loves sharing advice, try paying attention to how these tendencies lean more towards your powerlessness than your expertise.

Overstepping Boundaries.

Giving unsolicited advice steps over another’s boundaries. Not to mention, the advice is received with such resentment that it’s seldom followed. How many times during a general discussion has someone offered you “a piece of advice” or “their observation” when it wasn’t invited and required? Do you even feel listened to? When you feel the need to advise, what if you lean in and simply listen? Show empathy. Let them know you are there if they ever need to talk.

Misdiagnosing the problem.

In order to get a clear picture, you need complete information. Yet, sometimes the person sharing the story is not apt to give you the complete story. Chiming in without the facts only equips you to give partial or even faulty advice. Psychologist Loren Nordgren (2009) found that among a group of people trying to quit smoking, the ones who gave especially high ratings to their own willpower were most likely to fail. We lie to ourselves. How much easier is it to lie to an outsider?

Try asking probing questions. Not like a detective but out of genuine interest. Instead of comparisons, try reflections. Not only does it keep you away from outwardly judging them, it reinforces that fact that you’re listening.

Offering Self-Centered Advice.

As a kid, whenever I shared my recount of an altercation with friends someone would say, “Couldn’t be me. I would have done something different.” While this might sound childlike, it’s simply one upping someone. It’s an act that makes the person seem weak and you seem strong. This statement also takes the focus off the person who is sharing and thrusts you into the spotlight. Under pressure, someone may not respond in a way that is reasonable or rational to you. Instead of making them feel small, make them feel relevant by showing them empathy. If you hold the space for them, you leave room for them to imagine a different outcome. The next time such a situation arises, they will be better prepared.

Communicating advice poorly.

Imagine overhearing the conversation between your dentist talking and his assistant. What are your thoughts? “Canine? In my mouth?” Using jargon or unfamiliar language is diagnosing the right dis-ease in the wrong way. It’s misleading. Also, giving input in an area you’re not trained in leads to miscommunication. As a person misinterprets your feedback, they may also question your integrity and credibility when a problem you’re actually trained in actually arises. The best guidance comes from Stephen Covey. Seek first to understand. Then to be understood. Instead of waiting for my turn to impart my wisdom. I simply listen with the intention to understand.

Mishandling the aftermath.

It’s not your issue! Yet, when advising you may feel slighted if your advice is not followed to the T. Feedback layered with good and constructive criticism is called the sandwich method. Someone who not only takes your advice but tops it with their personal experiences, mixed with the advice of another, a book, etc. is called wise. Should you get upset when you learn your advice isn’t followed, shift your thinking to how great it would feel to learn a portion of your advice was applied and it was a success. If you’re still feeling compelled to offer your input, try detaching yourself from the outcome. It’s not your problem to solve. 

For more on this topic check out, The Art of Giving and Receiving Advice by David A. Garvin and Joshua D. Margolis. Another useful tool is my 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Talking Stick. Even if I don’t have it with me, I imagine the person talking is holding the talking stick. I then shift my focus to paying attention and listening. They say every problem has a solution. Sometimes the solution is listening. 

Disclaimer: If you read this blog to the end, I assume you’re asking for my advice.