In my coaching practice, clients sometimes want an answer.
I’m thinking of doing X, what do you think?
This just happened. Can you tell me what to do?
Sometimes they lament. Not always blatantly, but I can tell by the questions that the client has run out of ideas and is looking to me for an answer.
And I have answers. Plenty of them. I am ‘never-knowingly under-opinionated’ as one of my friends calls it (talking about herself of course ;-)).
Are (My) Answers Helpful to My Clients?
While it’s easy to give my opinion, or to think that the person in front of my wants my information or advice, I prefer to stop and ask myself,
What is my client are really looking for?
What will help him or her best to get unstuck and move forward?
Will information or advice help? (even if it looks as if it will)
When Does Information Help?
Sometimes we know where we’re going and we need a missing piece of information, or we need some options to help open us up to our own imagination.
That’s when information or advice can be helpful. Not in a “do this!” sense, but to free up a blockage, to loosen the imagination, or to shift a fixed assumption.
When Does Information Hinder?
What I find though, is that those times are less frequent than the times it would be more helpful to sit back and shut up.
We ask for advice out of habit, or out of laziness. Or sometimes our questions come from the discomfort of sitting with “I don’t know!”
What we don’t see in those moments is that creating a little space, a time-out to sit with our question a little longer will usually reveal the perfect answer.
The Problem with Advice
So what if we get some unsolicited advice? We can always ignore it, right?
Yes, of course, we don’t have to do anything that anyone ‘tells’ us, even when we’ve paid them good money for their advice.
But, does it actually hinder? Is it problematic? And, if so, why?
When we get advice, we are getting is the other person’s experience, the other person’s worldview, the other person’s partial perspective on our worldview.
Often, that advice limits rather than expands our horizons. It’s backwards looking. The advice we get is based on what someone did, or what they can see from where they stand; it isn’t based on what we might be capable of, or what opportunities are over the horizon that we can’t yet see.
One of the things that I love about coaching is that my clients aren’t doing what I do. They are in their world, and their world looks nothing like my world. It’s my job to make that world more expansive and to help them navigate something bigger than either of us can anticipate.
Who am I to tell them what to do? That would be as useful as my husband’s armchair advice to his favourite football team.
Why would I want to limit the solutions and the opportunities that are waiting to unfold for them?
Sure, when my client is clear about what he or she wants, information can help get them there. When we’re gathering ideas, looking around can spark ideas or inspire innovation. But, when we’re stuck, advice is usually the very last place I like to go.
Do (You Think) You Need Advice?
What about you? Is there somewhere in your life where you think you need advice? Are you looking for someone to guide you to a solution? Does it look as if someone else’s model of success will help you find success for yourself?
Don’t Be Afraid of the Frustration
It can be annoying not to have your questions answered, but frustration in the moment isn’t a measure of the effectiveness of the support you’re getting. What counts is what you see in hindsight when your head has cleared and you’re back on track.
It might feel less comfortable, it might feel as if you aren’t getting your questions answered, it might feel slow. Leaning into any discomfort is where the breakthroughs come from, and the exhilaration of knowing you’ve struck gold.
Giving advice always serves the giver more than it serves the recipient.
What Does Work, Then?
The only thing that will get us unstuck is an insight and we have to see that for ourselves. There’s no shortcut, insights come when they come. I can’t wave a magic wand and activate my client’s crystal ball.
What I can do, though, is to walk with them as we look for answers together.
A good coach, a close friend, a supportive boss or a loving partner will recognise these distinctions and support you to see something new for yourself.
They will listen and ask questions. They won’t simply ‘tell you’ what to do. Or, if they do, they are doing it in the spirit of rocking your boat, rather than giving you instructions.
And (hopefully!) this will help clear the fog in front of you.
Have a great day and talk next time.
About the author
Cathy Presland is a leadership coach and strategist. She works with people who are making a positive impact with the work they do. Find out more at https://cathypresland.com