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BlogMindset & Personal Development

The Problem with Giving Advice

By December 28, 2021May 30th, 2023No Comments

One of my biggest surprised to me about becoming a Professional Coach is that coaching isn’t about giving advice.  I’ve mentioned a number of times that I did a graduate level program at Vanderbilt University the last 2 years.  (My 2 coaching practices are health coaching and mental performance coaching). 

Teaching and advice giving is one area, but coaching is different.  A podcast or a newsletter like this one has more of a teaching or advice giving element…mostly because you are interested or seeking information, and it’s not the same as a give and take conversation between the two of us.  In conversation or in coaching, the dynamic is different.

As a caveat, with coaching a skill or training in a sport, you do need to tell people what to do when it comes to workouts. But with life, health, mental skills, and business?  It can actually be demotivating when you just tell someone what to do.  When it comes to our own goals? Make sure they are something you actually want to do (not what someone thinks you should do).  Perhaps think about that when setting your New Year’s Resolutions! Do you actually want to do the thing or do you just think you should?

When it comes to behavioural science, it turns out that it’s not ignorance (not knowing that to do) that is the roadblock, but rather a lack of confidence and self-efficacy.  It appears that receiving unsolicited advice can destroy confidence.  There was a study with over 2000 students that were typically told what to do to study better for tests and have more focus. This time, a group of students was invited to offer guidance to other students on how to study more effectively.  Their advice-giving was prompted by an online survey where they had to answer questions like, “what helps you avoid procrastinating before a test” instead of someone telling them to stop procrastinating or what to do to stop procrastinating. It turns out that by having a student tap into their own wisdom and offering advice or input, they performed better and prepared better for exams.

Why?  When we hear ourselves say something out loud, it can be hard to do the opposite because we’ll feel like a hypocrite.  Also, tapping into our own experiences builds confidence.  We want what we do and what we say to be in alignment, and there is an added potency when you are saying it to someone else (as opposed to just saying it to yourself). 

Next time you feel compelled to give unsolicited advice (we have all felt this way around family, and maybe even in the last week!  I’ve caught myself jumping into advice-giving mode too many times), try asking a question instead of giving unsolicited advice. If it’s appropriate to give advice, ask the person if it’d be okay if you gave them some advice or input before offering it. And of course, if someone asks you directly for advice, it is probably welcomed and not demotivating.

Learning to listen without trying to fix it or give cheerleading reassurance (at least you have x…) can help someone feel seen and heard, and also help them come to a solution or strategy that they are excited about trying.

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