I want to make a bet with you. I bet that you have probably never met a person who thinks that they are a bad person. And if you have met someone who says so, you know they probably don’t mean it. Most people think of themselves as good, ethical and part of the ‘correct’ in-group. It should therefore come as no surprise that they want to share their values and beliefs with others, and expect others to act and behave as they do. So far so good, you say.
It is a natural consequence of the above that people like giving advice to others. Giving advice has a psychological function: as we want other people to be, do and have what we are, do and have, we advice them to do what we do (or rather, what we think we do). Why is it then that most counselling, coaching and support services, teach people not to give advice? Why do they teach their staff and volunteers to instead listen and try to understand?
They do this because they have seen the evidence of encouraging their people to listen and understand, rather than talk and advice. And they have seen that the evidence is good. Skilled support workers who listen without judgement, who try to understand rather than be understood, create a sense of empowerment and control in others. They establish rapport and make the recipient of their support feel validated, listened to and strong. On the contrary, this rapport is lost when advice is given which doesn’t lead to positive results; people who are given advice, are not given the opportunity to develop their sense of control over their own lives and what happens in them. They will often come back to the ‘expert’ for more advice, rather than developing the skills to tackle challenges by themselves.
In a previous post, I have discussed the benefits of listening to your own inner voice, your own instinct, rather than seeking advice. At this point I need to make a disclaimer: there are a lot of very competent professionals out there that give very helpful expert advice, whether it’s legal advice, business related advice, or consultancy. We are not talking about this type of professional (and usually paid for) service here. We are talking about personal, non-qualified advice which people freely give to others in order to feel better about themselves.
We all find sometimes ourselves in a period of our lives where we feel lost, directionless and unsure about the next step. When you are in a dip, it’s hard to resist temptation to listen to those around you that are available to give you a sympathetic nudge in the right direction, by telling you what you should do. Unfortunately, advice based on others’ personal experience is seldom going to help you improve yourself and reach your personal goals. Furthermore, asking advice from the wrong people might put you off from doing what your instinct says you should do. This can have dire consequences in your life, as you will miss out on potential opportunities to get what you really want. You already know that deep within yourself, lays the answer about what is the right thing to do. Listen to your inner voice, and avoid taking non-qualified advice from someone who means well. While they think they are helping you, they only validate their own values and beliefs. They may think they do this for you, but in their unconscious reality, they mostly help themselves.
Feedback is different from advice. Constructive feedback is not coloured by personal experience, but built around objective behavioural observations. It will involve phrases such as ‘I noticed that you did this’ rather than ‘you should do this’. Good feedback helps you improve and you can choose to either accept or reject it. It helps you identify your blind spots, and look at your own behaviour from a more detached point of view, one you are not that familiar with. Learning to accept constructive feedback graciously, helps you become a more complete and confident person and allows you to blossom as an individual and become the best you you can be. Start surrounding yourself today with people who are able to give you good feedback, and say a polite ‘no’ to those who want to give you ‘good’ advice!
Kostas The Coach is a Personal Performance and Small Business Coach based in Slough, UK. I help creative people develop their individuality and businesses grow sustainably while remaining ethical.
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