Picture this one scenario:
You’re going through a difficult time at work; you reach out to friends and loved ones for help and support.
Their response is overwhelming! You receive an infinite number of tips and recommendations on what to do, and how and when…
You nod to their advices and take mental notes, and then, on your own, you try to translate them into actions… but something goes wrong. It does not work!
That leaves you feeling worse than before. You feel lost and incompetent, and your frustration rises even more.
You feel even more stuck than before: when going through the advices again, you realise that many of those you had tried already before! Some of the prompts are actually inappropriate for you and your situation. And some other options are just not consistent with your style.
Does it ring any bell? Have you been in this situation before?
Let’s look at another scenario:
In this case, it is a friend or a colleague that you care about who is having hardships and you desperately want to help.
So, you offer what you feel is useful advice that will assist the person in getting through this difficult situation. You arm yourself with your best intention and go into huge amount of details to help the other person being able to implement your solution right away.
You leave the advice scene, you pat yourself on the shoulder for being such a good and caring friend or colleague.
But, eventually, you get annoyed or frustrated when you realise that the person hasn’t taken your advice further.
Can’t they see how simple it is to improve their situation? Why aren’t they listening?!
Was this scenario familiar?
In my case, I have lived both scenarios personally. And I know I am not alone.
So what is it that goes wrong when we try to give advice to people we care about, or we receive advice from people who care about us?
I have done some research about it and here is what I found.
What Is The Problem With Giving Advice to People?
It turns out that there are 3 main reasons why our brilliant advice does not work:
Reason #1 : You are solving the wrong problem
Almost never is the first challenge the real challenge. We are so eager to give our opinion, to help out, that we don’t ask enough clarifying questions and we are satisfied with the first answer to the question ‘what’s wrong?’. And the fact is that often the person trying to explain what the problem is might have not figured it out himself yet. And what he expresses is more a symptom, rather than the real problem: it’s their best guess at what the real problem is.
We have the tendency to project our own autobiography on others’ needs and that results in us being not as curious as we could and should be.
Reason #2 : You are advice is not complete and so it is not as useful as you think it is
Your advise is a projection of your own experience: in most cases it is something you have done once or more often yourself, or maybe something you have seen others doing or read about it somewhere.
Sometimes we don’t take the time to really understand the problem and want to quickly help our friend and colleague and therefore try to push our methods to other people.
And when you solved the problem yourself, you went for sure also through trial and error, of which you have little memory today and so you only tell part of the story to the person.
Reason #3 : You are not portraying great leadership
Ask yourself the question: is this the right way for you to show up for the person you are giving advice to?
Even if their ideas are not quite as good as yours, as a leader there is something more powerful when you are empowering them to get smarter, to get the ideas themselves, to gain wisdom.
Human’s natural instinct is anyway to push back against ideas from others even, if they are well meant; so you might as well save you the frustration and be more coach-like in your style rather than offering your solution to them.
Why our brain comes up with so many reason why the advice does not work for us?
Here is an important truth about our brain: it loves finding excuses and not having to work (think) hard. Thinking requires a lot of calories and we want to avoid it, if possible. So your brain’s default choice is often to let you linger in confusion and indecision.
If you are trying to implement something new, it will look for all the evidence why it won’t work for you.
Being aware of it, is the first fundamental step for you to take action for yourself and decide if you want to remain in the confusion space or if you instead want to take action and solve the problem for yourself.
This means you have to accept that it is a rinse and repeat journey. It won’t necessarily work at the first attempt, but stay curious and explore the next option.
And as the advisor, ask questions so that the person in front can really get to the bottom of the issue, the thought that is at the root cause of the problem.
So, what are your thoughts about giving advice: I would love to hear from you!