Start, Stop & Change: advice giving

I don’t know what’s best for you. Or anyone else for that matter.

And you don’t know what’s best for me. Or anyone else for that matter.

Since those statements hold true for you, me, and everyone, this stands out: There’s a whole lot of advice giving going on.

Usually unsolicited. Often disempowering.

Here’s what I mean. You tell me about a problem you’re having with your boss or your spouse. Or about a challenge you’re facing in your business or with your best friend.

As soon as I’ve heard enough to weigh in, I start telling you what to do.

  • You just need to… Ask for a raise. Put your foot down. Fire that client. Set better boundaries.
  • You just need to… Get up earlier. Quit your job. Leave your marriage. Eat more kale.

When you tell me how much you hate your job, it’s bad advice for me to tell you to quit. Or to stay.

I don’t walk in your shoes. I don’t get to reap the rewards or have to pay the price of your decision to stay or go, go or stay.

I don’t have your experiences or values or dreams. I’m not writing your life story.

Which means I can’t possibly know the answer that’s right for you and your life.

You might think you’re doing someone a favor when you offer advice. And if they’ve specifically asked for your two cents, maybe you are.

But usually you’re not. Because implicit in those uttered words of advice is this: I know better than you. And equally undermining: I know what’s best for you.

With each piece of advice, you chip away at the other person’s creativity, resourcefulness and wholeness.

As much as you may want to help, you can’t possibly know what’s best for someone else.

Rather than acting like Dear Abby, how about asking some great questions instead? Questions that empower the other person to figure out what’s right for them.

Questions like:

  • What do you need to know to make a great decision?
  • Tell me more about your options?
  • How do you think you might move forward?
  • What does your head, heart, gut tell you?
  • If I were coming to you with this issue, what would you say?
  • What would it look like to conquer this once and for all?
  • What have you done in the past in similar situations?

Of course, this is not about interrogating the other person.

It’s just that when you ask a great question and then listen carefully, you give the person space to think and create their own answers. And their own answers—more than any advice you can give—are the right ones for them.

What’s the last piece of advice you gave someone? Could you have asked an empowering question instead?