It’s hard to resist giving advice isn’t it? We all do it whether it’s solicited… or not.

When we feel sympathy or frustration with another person’s dilemma it pulls at our heartstrings. Of course, the human thing to do is to try to solve their dilemma for them. We try to advise rather than coach.

Advisors beware!

There’s a catch with that approach: what you perceive as a need may not be one at all. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten parenting ‘advice’ from complete strangers while waiting in line at the supermarket with my then toddler. It’s well-meaning perhaps, but doesn’t advising assume that the other person doesn’t know what they’re doing?

Advising vs. Coaching: A tale of two scenarios

Let’s start with the advising approach:

  • I’m overwhelmed and I’ll have to work the entire weekend!  What should I do?
  • You should take the weekend off. You need it!
  • I can’t or I’ll go crazy Monday morning.  I’ll have 1000 emails in my inbox!
  • Then work from home this weekend.
  • I have trouble working at home, too many distractions!
  • Then go to the office early one morning.
  • Well, I guess I could consider that for one of those 2 days. (Sigh).

Contrast the above with a coaching approach:

  • I’m overwhelmed and I’ll have to work the entire weekend! What should I do?
  • What happens if you don’t work this weekend? [Open-ended question]
  • 1000 emails waiting in my inbox… a never ending story!
  • What happens if you don’t take the weekend off? [Open-ended question]
    … [Long pause]
  • Maybe I could take one day off and work for 5 hours early one morning. I’ll be able to come home and enjoy the rest of the time with my family. They can get the BBQ started without me. I’ll join in as soon as I can. Thanks! Have a great weekend!

Notice that in the second scenario, the advice seeker is finding his/her own solution. And you supported that process without getting caught up in their dilemma.

Moving from advising to coaching: A quick tip

Next time someone says: ‘What should I do?’ Treat it as a rhetorical question and resist the temptation of offering advice. Instead ask a question:

  • What have you tried?
  • What outcome would you like?
  • Who could contribute to your plan?
  • What do you need?
  • What would you do if you had a magic wand and could do anything?

After a lifetime of receiving and giving unwanted advice, I’ve come to rely on coaching questions to help others find their own way. The best questions are as open as possible, making sure there’s no solution lurking between the lines.

Let me know how the coaching approach supports you in your daily interactions!

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