Have you ever heard your own voice go Blah blah, blah blah, blah blah, blah blah? Everything about the person next to you is silently begging you to stop. YOU are begging you to stop, but still you go on: Blah blah, blah blah, blah blah, blah blah….
I know I’ve often experienced this as a mother. I also know that most leaders struggle with the same curse of being in a position of influence—we love doling out advice. Not only that, but we also expect others to follow it, not realizing that the outcomes of our expectations are self-defeating.
If the person on the receiving end becomes used to following advice, they’ll keep waiting to be told what to do. And if they decide to listen and then ignore your advice, we tend to become very disappointed, if not angry and resentful.
Thankfully, there is a better way of giving advice, based on the concept of what humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers called “positive regard.” It emerges from a belief that the person next to us is whole and capable of making their own best decision, and that our job is to simply nudge them toward it.
So how do we do so?
1. Listen Deeply
How often have you listened to someone recount their story while simultaneously listening to your own judgment about their story or planning what you’ll say in return, and blurting it out before they’re even done speaking? Listening fully, on the other hand, is about quieting your own mind so you can enter theirs and see the world from their perspective. When you listen to their anxieties, fears, or confusion, you help them feel understood. You help them shift their physiological response away from fight-or-flight—which is not conducive to thinking clearly or creatively—to a state of calm and composure.
2. Resist the Urge
That’s when the magic happens. Once they’ve shifted from their aroused emotional state of panic or confusion, they begin to tap into their own sources of wisdom. They begin to come up with their own set of possible solutions. But your work is not yet done! You need to stay silent, instead of trying to one-up them in some way. You’ll be surprised at how often we do so, either because we’re hung up on our own answers or because we’re desperately trying to add value to the conversation.
If that’s you, resist the urge. Let them sit with their own “aha moment” for a while, as you nod in agreement and reflect on whether your suggestion adds real value.
3. Offer Without Attachment
If your suggestion doesn’t add real value, bite your lip. If it does, offer it by building on what the other person has already said. Begin by showing them why you agree with them by saying things like: “I think that will work very well because…”. Then offer your suggestion by using phrases such as, “Would you like to also…” or, “Would it be even more effective if…”. Finally—and here’s the difficult part—let them be the best judge of whether to take your suggestion or to let it go. Think of your idea, as author Elizabeth Gilbert says, as simply being a life force that’s looking for “available and willing human partners.” The right one will pick it up. This takes the sting off of rejection.
When my youngest daughter was little, it wasn’t uncommon for her to come home emotionally distraught after “the most horrible day” at school. As a mother, I would be itching to fix it all for her, and sometimes struggle to stay present through her emotions when a hundred other things awaited my attention. But soon enough, I learned the truth that—in professor of psychiatry Dan Siegel’s words—you can’t talk logic to an emotional brain. As I’d listen and empathize, her sobs would eventually stop, her tears would dry up, and, wonder of wonders, she’d come up with a solution that even I hadn’t thought of. This wound up being a gratifying and humbling experience. It’s a reminder that w