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Tip #53 - Stop Giving Advice

I was listening to an exchange between colleagues, let’s call it scenario 1:
  • I’m overwhelmed and will have to work this whole summer weekend.
  • You should take the weekend off, you need it!
  • I can’t or I’ll go crazy Monday morning. I have 1000 e-mails in my inbox!
  • Then work from home this weekend.
  • I have trouble working at home, too many distractions!
  • Then come to the office early one morning.
  • Well, I guess I could consider that for one of those 2 days. Sigh.
Contrast this with the second scenario:
  • I’m overwhelmed and will have to work this whole summer weekend.
  • What happens if you don’t work this weekend?
  • 1000 emails waiting in my inbox… a never ending story.
  • What happens if you don’t take the weekend off?
  • ………
  • Well, maybe I could take one glorious day off and then work for 5 hours early one morning and then come home to enjoy the rest of the time with family and friends. The rest of them can get the BBQ started!
  • Thanks! Have a great weekend!
What do you notice between the two scenarios?

Scenario 1 seems to presuppose the other doesn’t have the answer and needs you to figure it out. We are so used to problem solving mode that we fall into this type of dialogue naturally. However… you are not living their life, don’t know all the ins and outs of their situation, can only guess at the underlying causes to this symptom.

In scenario 1, you have to keep guessing at the solutions and end up in badgering mode. Over time, you’re actually creating conditions for someone to rely on you more and more, which in turn means they grow smaller and more helpless: “What should I do now?”  A never ending contract for the helper!


After a lifetime of receiving and giving unwanted advice, I’ve come to rely on coaching questions to help others find their own way. Less onerous on me, less likely to slip like water off a duck’s back or fail altogether. “See, I tried your solution and it didn’t work!!”

You notice that the second scenario has the other talking more, takes you out of the equation altogether, and gets the other to think and trust him or herself. Perfect!

The question needs to be as open as possible, making sure there’s no solution lurking between the lines. Sometimes when the person is really stuck, options can help, but that should be your last resort, as it tends to limit solutions to only the options you present.

Next time someone says: ‘What should I do?’ Treat it as a rhetorical question.
  • What have you tried?
  • What haven’t you tried?
  • What outcome do you really want?
  • What is important about that?
  • Who could contribute to your plan?
  • What do you need?
  • What would you do if you had a magic wand and could do anything?
You get the idea. Help her, help him on their quest and get out of the way! Take time off this summer from giving advice and enjoy a well-deserved vacation.