Stop Giving Advice

Stop Giving Advice
Photo by Jon Tyson / Unsplash

7 years ago, I called my best friend Robert Stephens and asked him for advice. His response was not what I was looking for. He said,

Do you want my Advice or do you want my Validation?

I just sat there for a second. Doubting my actual intentions. Thinking. What do I actually want? Why am I calling?

He didn't ask me because he wanted to know. He was asking me so I'd see for myself that I wanted validation. And I did.

That moment was a turning point for me. I realized that for years I'd been calling people who would let me think out loud and validate whatever I was saying.

And that's ok. Turns out, that's actually what most of us want, most of the time.

The best part is that there's a protocol we can all use to help ourselves and others get the validation, advice, or feedback we want. (I mean, of course, there's a protocol because it's literally what we all do. This protocol was developed and shared with me by Ted Klontz after I told him about my interaction with Robert. He said, "Ah, the giving advice protocol. This could help you.")

Introducing: The Giving Advice Protocol

It starts with realizing that ~80% of the time, people just want to be heard. We usually seek the space to think out loud about something we are insecure about. Most of the time, we aren't looking for advice. Ok, but how do we know when someone is actually looking for advice? How do we know when it's a safe space to give it?

You follow this very simple protocol.

Next time someone calls you and says "Can I get your advice?" - Simply speak these steps back to them:

  1. Tell me what you’ve already tried. Listen.
  2. Tell me what you thought about trying but haven’t done yet. Listen.
  3. Tell what other people have done or said. Listen.
  4. I wonder what would you tell me. If the situation were reversed and you were sitting where I am. Listen.

I've found that 85% of the time, the conversation ends here. The irony is that many times, the person will say to me at the end, "Thanks for the advice." When they really just talked to themselves. But I created the space for them to do that. Funny how the world works.

But, if after these 4 steps, they come up with nothing and are still stuck, you've prepared them to be open to real advice. They have now reminded themselves that they actually don't know. This is very important because it helps the ego of the person seeking advice to be reminded that they don't have the answer. The times in my life when I give advice and it hurts the relationship or the person asking doesn't want to hear it, is usually because they think they already know. This moment is important to create a space where people are open to real feedback and advice. This creates the space for people to actually listen.

I hope you find this as useful as I have. It's made it so much easier just to listen to people and help them listen to themselves. And then know if they need my advice or not.

Fun fact: Notice that each step above is a statement, not a question. To learn why we should stop asking questions, read this.

Here's the longer version of the above:

  1. Clarify and summarize the issue in three or fewer sentences
  2. Elicit what they have already tried
  3. Elicit what they are considering trying or thinking about doing
  4. Inquire as to what they might have heard that others have done
  5. Inquire if they have ever been in a similar spot/felt this way before and if so, what they recall about how they made it through that. Find out more about the resources did they utilized/action steps did they took.
  6. What they might tell you/someone else in this situation
  7. Summarize everything you have heard so far and get feedback that your summary is correct and complete
  8. Inquire as to whether they feel like they need some more information, or if they feel like they have what they need. If they would like more information, ask if they are ready to hear some additional thoughts and or strategies.
  9. Offer suggestions that represent ideas that have not already been mentioned. Use the kinds of things that you know have worked for others/yourself, what the “research’” might suggest, offer sources they could use to research their questions, (or do it right then on internet?) answer questions/make clarifications about your suggestions/recommendations.
  10. Ask “Of everything that you’ve heard, tell me what makes the most sense in terms of your next step.” What, when, who, how, where, accountability, etc.?

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Jamie Larson