"I think the main reason you employ me," Bob once said, "is to hear yourself talk."
Bob was a savvy coach who'd run the Career Services office at Harvard and then gone into private practice.
I sometimes consulted him for advice. Except that he hardly gave any.
And when he did—one day he suggested I write a sitcom episode for "Seinfeld"—I usually ignored it.
His role, as he saw it, wasn't to tell me what to do. It was to engage in dialogue so I could figure things out.
How often do you give advice?
Advice isn't bad.
When you have expertise, and the other person doesn't, your advice may be useful. I give lots of advice, for example, when coaching executives on presentations.
But most problems aren't like that.
Suppose you're a manager. You've got at least 15 ways to develop your employees—advice ranks last (Learning and Development Roundtable 2003 survey).
Your advice robs others of the chance to develop judgment.
Sometimes, when people ask me for advice, I listen for a while, and then ask a question like this:
“Suppose you were talking to a very wise person. What would she or he advise you to do?”
"She'd advise me to stay put," said a colleague. He'd been wrestling with whether to accept a job at another company. Suddenly, he knew the answer.
A similar question: "What would Person X do (where X is a role model)?"
Movie director Steven Spielberg, while making "Jaws," struggled with a mechanical shark that didn't work.
He could have called Alfred Hitchcock for advice. Instead, he asked himself, "What would Hitchcock do?"
Answer: Don't show the shark. It's scarier.
Tip: It's scarier to let people solve problems on their own. It's easier—for you and for them—to show the answer.
But the next time someone knocks on your door for advice, remember: that's a coachable moment.
© Copyright 2011 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
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Meet the Jobs Docs
Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.