Avoiding The Advice Trap (with Michael Bungay Stanier)

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This week’s Accidental Creative podcast features Michael Bungay Stanier discussing his book The Advice Trap.

Have you ever been in a situation where someone offered unsolicited advice?

Let me tell you what you need to do…”

How did it feel? If you’re like me, you were probably grateful that they wanted to help, but it put you in the awkward position of either refusing their advice or, if they were your manager, acting on it just to avoid offending them in spite of your better instincts.

It’s tempting to fall into the “advice trap”, which is when we lead with advice-giving instead of pausing to listen to the other person, to consider what they really need, and to ask questions that help them arrive at the answer on their own. Not only is this a better way to ensure that we are truly helping the other person, but it’s also the best way to help them learn to solve problems on their own. Here are a few things I took away from my chat with Michael:

Lead With Curiosity

Ask a lot of questions. You should lead with your curiosity, not your advice. By asking a lot of questions, you will not only better understand what’s truly going on, but you will also help the other person learn to think through their problems in a more guided way. This is how a great manager (or peer) can build into team members in a lasting manner.

Ask questions first, and let the other person sort through the problem in conversation with you.

Release The Control

One of the biggest temptations of a manager is to clamp down and attempt to control the output of the team. Brilliant, driven creative pros need freedom to think for themselves and to try new methods for accomplishing their work. When you control your team, the work shrinks until it’s only as big as your personal sphere of attention can bear. Instead, you should aim to allow your team freedom to operate within clear principles and boundaries that guide their decisions.

Lead with influence, not control.

Give Empathetic Advice

The worst advice is always the “if I were you, this is what I’d do” type. Why? Because you are filtering your advice through your own lens, not the world of the other person. Instead, when you do give advice first put yourself in the other person’s position and try to imagine how it would feel to be in their shoes. How might their feelings and concerns differ from what you’d be experiencing if you were in their situation?

Before giving advice, imagine that you’re in the other person’s situtation.

Once you learn to temper the “advice monster”, you’ll become the manager (or the peer) that everyone wants to work with.

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