Advice-Giving…the Ultimate Buzz Kill

I think we all know this.  Unconsciously.  We’ve told our spouse how to load the dishwasher, our assistant how to set up the report, or told our teenage son how to drive a car. And then there is the eye roll….the exasperated sigh.  Once you start giving the how – all engines shut down.  Buzz. Kill.

If you think about it –  where is the engagement, the decision making, the buy in; the flow in someone else telling you how?  Dr. Srinivasan Pillay explains this in his book, Your Brain and Business. According to Dr. Pillay, “brain imaging shows that when advice is given, it ‘offloads’ the value of the decision options from the listener’s brain, so that there are no correlations between brain activation and attributed value when advice is given, as compared to when it is not given…that is, advice turns the brain of the listener ‘off.'”

Whoa.  I need to rethink my next road trip with my 16 year old at the wheel.  So if I tell him to “put both hands on the wheel” or “slow down”…this is shutting his brain down.  Not a good thing.

I am the same way.  I’ve had a coach tell me what goal I was working on for the next two weeks. I felt myself slide back on my heels…and I didn’t lift a finger towards the goal–not a finger.

OK. So how do I stop giving unwanted, unsolicited, mind-shutting-down advice?

These are the FOUR Not so Easy Steps:

1. Listen. This always the first step. Your spouse may just be venting about the frustrations of the day. They could really just want some understanding, or a comforting smile and nod, instead of you jumping in with a 25 step guide on how to fix their problem.

2. Ask.  Use open-ended questions like “what do you want to do?” or “what options do you have?”  Having the listener give you their ideas creates buy in and helps them brainstorm their own options.  Guess which idea will have the most weight…yup…their idea.

3. Don’t Judge.  Unless they are asking for feedback , don’t jump in and start giving them all your wisdom.  If they ask for the feedback, give it constructively and sparingly.

4. Brainstorm.  If it’s going nowhere and the listener can’t seem to decide or is requesting your wisdom…ask for permission to brainstorm.  In brainstorming, there is no “how” or “wrong answer”…just throw out some off the wall ideas and see if the listener can glean their own answer or muddle their own idea from piecing together different ideas.  Making them their own.  Don’t take the lead. Or there will be no buy in, no finger lifting.

Doesn’t this make you wonder why “Dear Abby” was so popular for so many years?  Did anyone ever really take her advice?  Was the column there just for all of us armchair advice givers to live vicariously through Abby?

So help me out, what am I supposed to do with the 16 year old barreling down the road at 65 miles an hour ? How do I get through to him? I am asking for advice here. Really. Leave a comment. Some advice.

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