Have you ever had that experience of sharing a challenge with a colleague, a superior, or in a meeting, only to be met with an immediate reply as to how they managed a similar situation?
You may have noticed within yourself that sometimes you appreciate the advice you’ve received and accept it with open arms – even if it challenges your current perception of the situation.
At other times, even if the advice is decent, there’s just something about it that rubs you the wrong way and you shut your ears to it immediately.
We tend to reject even good advice when we don’t feel heard and understood.
I see this dynamic play out a lot in business. It can become particularly tricky when two different departments are collaborating, where each team shares a different perspective of the issue at hand.
One team raises a problem, the other shares an immediate solution and then the banter about why that would or wouldn’t work begins.
Sometimes these types of conversations lead to great outcomes. Other times, they leave everyone feeling frustrated.
The nuances are all in the subtlety of how it’s done.
Whether you notice it or not, when someone’s immediate reply is to give you unsolicited advice, there’s often a subtle implication that if you would deal with the situation the way they did, you’d no longer have this problem.
There’s often a little note of condescension, even though it may not even be intended.
I don’t know about you, but I know that it can certainly rub me the wrong way.
There’s a real art behind sharing advice in a way that is more helpful than harmful.
If you’re leading a team, it’s worth taking a moment to take a look at the advice-giving patterns of both you and your team members. When advice isn’t well received, we often blame it on the other person for not being open-minded enough. But when you can flip the lens to look at what you could do to better facilitate these problem-solving conversations, you’ll find these conversations will become much more effective and efficient.
People won’t take your advice if they don’t trust you. And they won’t trust you if they don’t feel heard and understood.
It’s as simple as that.
Here are a few ways to foster trust before giving advice:
1. Summarize what you’re hearing to ensure that you’ve truly understood the situation.
Part of where advice-giving goes wrong is that we often jump to giving advice before we’ve even truly understood the problem. Reflecting back what you’ve heard can help mitigate this.
Try using statements such as:
“So if I’m understanding you correctly here…”
“So hang on a second, I just want to be sure that we’re both on the same page…”schedule doesn’t
“I’m not sure I understand, can you tell me more about why that’s a problem?”
2. Validate the other person’s perspective.
It’s important to let the person know that you’ve heard and understood their perspective of the situation. Validating does NOT mean that you have to see the situation the same way they do or agree with them.
For instance, just because you may not mind last minute changes to your schedule doesn’t mean that it’s unreasonable for your colleague who prefers to know their schedule in advance to be thrown off by multiple last-minute changes to their schedule.
Validating another person’s perspective simply means valuing and respecting the other person’s experience of a situation – even when it is different from your own.
Skipping this step means you will undoubtedly run into communication challenges if you try to problem-solve together.
3. Show empathy.
Validation and empathy go hand in hand. Empathy involves connecting with the emotion that the other person is experiencing and reflecting your understanding of that emotion back to them.
For the example above, saying something such as “I can understand why you’re so frustrated by all of these changes” shows you’ve understood the emotion they are experiencing.
It’s important in this step to not substitute how you would be feeling if you were the person in the situation. In other words, you acknowledge and put words to their frustration even if you’re not feeling frustrated about the same thing.
4. Explicitly ask if the person actually wants advice.
Once you’ve fully understood the situation, validated the person’s experience and shown empathy, it’s still not quite time to jump into advice-giving.
If you’re finding yourself inclined to share advice at this point, before doing so, it’s best to check whether or not the person is actually looking for advice. The easiest way to do this is simply to say something such as “are you sharing this simply because you want to talk about it, or are you wanting some advice?”.
Being explicit with this question will make sure that both people’s intentions are well aligned, decreasing the risk of conflict and misunderstanding.
4. Share advice without an expectation that it will be taken.
If (and only if!) the person shares that they’re looking for advice, it’s important to ensure that your advice is given without an expectation that the other person will do as you’ve suggested. There’s a difference between sharing advice and setting out managerial expectations and it’s important to not confuse the two.
I view advice sharing as more of a problem-solving process, where different ideas are thrown on the table for consideration. At the end of the day, it’s up to the person (or team) who has responsibility for the issue at hand to gather the information that they need to make a decision that makes sense for them.
It’s therefore critically important to not feel tied to the advice that we give. We’re sharing an alternate perspective for consideration, to be taken or not.
When you focus on building trust, you’ll experience less resistance
If you find yourself met with resistance when sharing advice, it might be time to shift your focus back to building trust and listening. Strengthening your relationship with the person in question will increase the chances that the next time the two of you are brainstorming a problem, you’ll both be able to better hear one another’s perspective.
Remember back to how you feel when you share a concern and are told really quickly how to fix it before you even feel that the person has understood the full scope of the problem. It might just serve as a reminder for what your team members could be experiencing.
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