Toby Elwin, advice people ignore, blog

Stop giving advice people ignore

Why Giving Advice Doesn't Work, whitepaper, LeadershipIQ, Mark Murphy

At work do you ever say, “let me give you some advice”?  If so, do people lean forward with anticipation to hear what you have for advice?

When reviewing a draft ever heard someone tell you, “well, here’s my advice”?  If so, do you take a deep breath so as not to lose your cool?

When you hear someone ask for thoughts have you ever heard a reply start, “here’s what I would have done”?   if so, ever look around the room to catch people roll their eyes?

The point of communication:  action.

However, turning someone off, is rarely a strategic intent of those who hope to influence.  The intended reaction to your communication should not turn someone off, but yet so many turn people off with their communication.

Successful communication creates intended result(s). The performance measure for your communication:  did you get the intended result.  When you gave someone advice was your advice followed?  To the letter or just a little bit?

Do your realize, even as a leader, when you offer advice, you have really only offered weak, wishy-washy communication.  Advice alludes to an option, not a direct expectation.

Advice is a Waste or Time

Why communicate if your intent is missed. Waste of time.

Giving advice implies your advice is optional.  If your advice is not optional, then why not make it more clear what you expect.

A recent brief from LeadershipIQ called, Why Giving Advice Doesn’t Work [update: 2015], lists samples of advice you may have heard or said yourself:

  • “Personally, I wouldn’t bother the client before noon.”
  • “If it were me, I’d get started on this right away.”
  • “Have you tried talking to the client?”
  • “You should probably make a few extra just in case.”

This article, one of this year’s most thought-provoking reads I have tried to adopt, lists 5 reasons why advice does not work:

  1. Judgmental
  2. Directive
  3. Gotchas
  4. Narcissism
  5. Unsolicited

A sample nugget this 4-page, white paper offers:

… [h]owever, when you phrase it as advice, it sounds more like a recommendation than a directive. And as we’ve seen, that [directive] creates a misunderstanding that wastes everyone’s time.

If what you need to tell a subordinate is NOT optional, then be honest with them. Don’t play coy and pretend they have a choice when they actually don’t.

Advice: Run That by Yourself, First

It seems so logical in corporate America, or socially correct, to couch your expectation in soft-peddled advice or a pleadingly-weak suggestion.  Problem is, if it sounds like an option, people usually take the option of least resistance; resistance being:  they don’t want to redo work.

People will, however do extra work when based on fear, but, of course, fear is not much of a long-term gain for you, as it creates a bottleneck of indecision in your people and retards your people’s development.  And fear usually does not produce quality work as controlling bosses cause poor work.

So, after reading the above article to learn advice does not work doing something about it takes action.  As often as possible, I prepare for a difficult meeting or a difficult conversation by running my intended sentence(s), out loud, to myself.  I try what might say to that person to try to hear how I might react if it someone said the same to me.  Plenty of times this self-reflected sentence/message provides me the realization that what I intend to say would come across poorly.

If I can not get a practice sentence tried out ahead of time and the need is immediate, I at least sit back for 10 seconds and try the sentence I want to say in my head.  A 10-second pause is well worth the investment.

Being able to take that practice run, the subsequent self-reflection, and the modification to properly reassemble my message is always an investment well worth it.  Because, if it is worth communicating, it is worth communicating properly.  Clear communication saves time in both the short- and the long-term.

Source:  Inspired by a chapter on providing feedback from Mark Murphy’s book:  Hundred Percenters: Challenge Your Employees to Give It Their All, and They’ll Give You Even More.  Mr. Murphy is Chairman and CEO of LeadershipIQ

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