People need your experience but don’t necessarily want your advice. If you want to be helpful and expand the conversation, share your experience and keep your advice to yourself.
What’s the difference between sharing our experience and our advice? Quite a lot.
Advice is directive – toward a solution. It tends to shut down discussion and force a judgement of your solution. Sharing your experience, without advice, can broaden a person’s critical thinking process.
The Problem With Advice
Advice is a summary recommendation of what we think someone should do. We want to be helpful, but we can easily end up disempowering the other person.
Take a look at these statements. In each case, a presumably, well-meaning person is giving advice.
- “If I were you, I would sit him down and go over the project parameters again.”
- “You shouldn’t let him lead that group without first going through your training.”
- “You should get much tougher with your teenage. If he gets away with this, he’ll become worse.”
We’ve all done it. We’ve given someone advice that is perfect for their situation, yet, they didn’t follow it. Or even seem interested in it. Here’s the problem with advice:
- Easy to demean. When you share advice that someone has already thought of or tried, you communicate that you don’t think they were smart enough to consider this approach.
- “You’re not the boss of me.” Advising is telling someone what to do. It’s easy to raise defenses and cause people to miss the truth in your recommendation.
- Jumps past critical thinking to solutions. Advice is often delivered in the form of solutions, not a critical thinking process. The thinking process is actually more important than any one particular solution.
- Forces a response. Advice stops exploring the situation and jumps to a conclusion. The other person has to say yes or no to your advice. The conversation shifts from my problem to the validity of your solution.
A lot of advice-giving stems from our impatience. We’re done listening. We want the person to stop equivocating and move on.
There are good aspects to advice. These parts come out when we share our experience instead of our advice.
Share Your Experience
Your experience is different from your advice. Experience is valuable and needed. Sharing your experience is not without its difficulties, but if done well, it can evoke reflection and enlarge perspective for the other person.
Here are a couple of examples of sharing your experience:
- “When our family moved back to the U.S. from Singapore, we had our kids join sports in order to get to know other kids their age.”
- “I’ve found that if I don’t have a coaching agreement, there are more misunderstandings later in the coaching relationship.”
- “The best thing I’ve done to strengthen my marriage is to shut my laptop and listen to her.”
Your experience is a real-world example. It can broaden the conversation, rather than limit it as advice often does. Sharing your experience, if done well, will:
- Provide a real-world example. It’s like a case study about one approach and outcome. Theory and experience are often quite different.
- Add without trying to control. Your experience becomes one of many pieces of information in the conversation. You are not trying to direct the other person to your solution.
- Acknowledge the uniqueness of the person. Advice says, “You should do it this way.” Experience says, “I did it this way, but I am not you, and my situation was not exactly like yours.”
- Increases perspective. Your experience can become a discussion point to increase perspective.
There are many leadership situations where your experience could really help the other person to think more broadly.
Follow-Up With Questions
The key to keep your experience from becoming advice is to follow-up with questions.
Even when we share our experience without the “You should” and “I woulds,” people can still hear it as advice and jump to solutions. To help people engage in a critical thinking process, follow-up your experience with questions.
Briefly share your experience and then ask:
- What questions about your situation emerge as you hear this?
- What in this story resonates with you?
- What thoughts do you now have regarding your situation?
Keep the conversation about their situation and thinking, not your experience. Don’t be drawn into explaining too much about your experience. Instead, use it as a touch point to ask the person to reflect more deeply on their own situation.
Your experience can be valuable to others if you can share it in such as a way as to evoke reflection. As the spotlight of the conversation shifts momentarily to your experience, use questions to direct the focus quickly back to the other person’s thoughts.
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