Why Advice Is Not a Dirty Word

In the coaching world, advice is a dirty word.

Life coaches aren’t supposed to give advice. We are taught to help people tease out the answers and direction they need from coaching conversations. That’s because that approach is awesome and totally works!

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However, it doesn’t always work well for people who aren’t exactly sure what they want to achieve or who just need to talk it out to figure it out. Imagine a scenario where the client literally has no idea what the next step could be, and the coach can think of about 10 different things they could try to get going. Option 1: A lot of silent gazing into each other’s eyes, which can be nice sometimes, but not always helpful. Option 2: Some advice might help. You know, helpful suggestions, collaboration and individualization in the name of getting s**t done!

Of course, not everyone has a life coach to navigate these waters (which is a real problem, in my humble opinion) but everyone has parents, friends, nosy neighbours, well wishers, co- workers, frenemies, baristas, and so on. Advice is flying around out there no matter what coaches have to say about empowerment and facilitating change.

Yes, advice can be hella problematic. I’m sure we’ve all offered advice to a friend to have it come back and bite us in the butt. Like when you told your friend they should definitely breakup and then they end up engaged and you’re not invited to the wedding / open bar. Who hasn’t tried following someone’s advice because it seemed like such a good idea but then it just didn’t work at all in real life, leaving you frustrated and feeling like a disappointment to all involved?

Why do we want someone else to tell us what to do?

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People ask for advice all the time. A lady in IKEA once asked me which side table she should buy for her bedroom. I get it, the IKEA experience can be intense. IKEA is just a microcosm of life: there are tons of decisions to make, and information overload can lead to analysis paralysis, which can sometimes result in this “Somebody, ANYBODY, tell me which one of these damn tables to buy!” (Not what she said, but I can read between the lines!)

When life feels really out of control, the idea of having someone else tell us what to do or give us the answer can be very alluring. In other contexts, being told what to do is super annoying and makes us furrow our brow at the offender (more about that later!).

Sometimes we know people who just have their shit SO handled, that we’re like “Gimme some of that!” even though deep down we know that each person has a magic and chemistry that can never be exactly replicated. It just seems so comforting to do what we already know works.

So what's the deal with Askholes, then?

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Admit it: We’ve all been this person at least once. And we all know how annoying it can be when an Askhole gets going. Being a coach has helped me be way less annoying and less annoyed by this whole Askhole epidemic, which I’ve decided qualifies me to answer the above question.

Why would someone ignore advice that they literally just asked for?Maybe your advice just isn’t a good fit for them. You might suggest that I knit for relaxation, but I’ve tried and it just makes me super angry. If I was getting ready for a street brawl knitting would get me in the mood, but it won’t work for relaxation.

Sometimes we realize something isn’t for us after someone suggests it. Maybe you suggest I try hot yoga, and I think “Smart!” But then I remember “Wait I hate heat. I spend all summer sitting on top of my AC eating freezies”. Hmmm maybe hot yoga isn’t for me. Knowing what doesn’t work for us is just as valuable as knowing what does.

The biggest reason I’ve found that people ignore advice is that they aren’t actually ready to change but they really, really want to, so they just decide they are ready. Except, no, you actually have to want to change, be ready for it and be willing to do the stuff - you know from your deep down inside parts. It’s more than just saying so with your mouth.

Being in this space can really suck. It can feel like you lack discipline or motivation, and to other people you can look flippy floppy. Askholes know they are annoying and disappointing to the people they keep going to for more advice to ignore. Now they need advice on how to fix that!

But this crappy in between space isn’t the abyss. It’s the “Contemplation Stage of Change” and it’s a perfectly valid place to be. People in this space are telling you they want advice and to get s**t done, but they really just need ideas and suggestions so they can think it out.

The problem is you’ve put all this effort into listening to them go on and on and then providing kick ass solutions born of your very own smarty pants brains! Gah! Talk about crappy ROI. Recognizing that Askholes can be in (or stuck in) The Contemplation Stage of Change can free up lot of mental and emotional energy. Offer up a couple  ideas and then just listen and smile and nod, and let your Askhole friend talk and think it out. When they are ready, they will move to action. It’s not your responsibility to get other people to do things no matter how much you care about them or how high the stakes are.

Now we need a clever word like that for “People who dispense advice even though nobody asked”

The soulmates of Askholes are Unsolicited Advice Givers , or UAGs. I just made that up, rising to the challenge issued by my own subtitle *dusts off shoulders*.

UAGs are champions of the word “should”.They kindly let people know that they should quit smoking and they should take up Pilates and they should eat more fibre and they should ask for a raise even though nooooobody asked them. Maybe they know from experience. Or maybe they just have a lot of opinions.

Too much unwanted advice giving can be fatiguing for all involved. The UAGs are bummed because hardly anyone takes them up on their amazing ideas. The listeners are bummed because being under a consistent barrage of shoulds, no matter how kindly intended, can feel like what you’re doing right pales in comparison to what you’re not.

There's a lot of ways you can look at UAGs. In my experience, most of these people just SO badly to help others make their lives better that advice just pours out. In which case what they need is life coaching training so they can learn to harness their helping power without all the should-ing and information dumping. (Click here to find out where to send them!)

How to Give and Take Advice that Doesn’t Suck

I’m a coach who has managed to figure how and when to offer my clients advice, when it’s appropriate, and not get kicked out of Life Coaching Land. So take it from me, these are solid tips that work!

Don’t over-invest in your personal agenda… or invest it at all if you can swing it. At least promise me you’ll be aware of your personal agenda. That’s always a good place to start. Think giving advice is ALL about the other person is the grown up equivalent of The Tooth Fairy - a nice idea, but not real.

Remember, advice lives under the umbrella of creativity: Reframing advice as ideas means it’s okay to take it or leave it or tweak it. It’s not personal - It’s all just ideas! It’s important that no one feels obligated to the other.

Listen with your ears, eyes and heart. Pay attention to the non-verbal reactions you’re getting and pay attention to your own reactions. It's normal for resistance to show up when we feel like someone is bossing us around - in that state, we can’t hear a good idea if it kicked us in the ear.

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Start by asking permission. “Well if you want my advice” should ideally come after someone asks you for your advice, otherwise you might be an unwelcome advisor. If you’re asking for advice from someone, they might not be the mood, feel capable or even have the time. Or maybe they are hangry, in which case just get them a snack and then ask for advice.

Drop the word should from your vocabulary. Trying saying “you could” or “would you consider…?” as less bossy-pants ways to advise others. When we are hearing advice, it’s easy to start should-ing all over ourselves as well, which usually results in a way too long of things to do or try, and a little raincloud cloud of guilt hanging over us for not having done those things already.

Be open minded and collaborate. It’s all just ideas, so you have my permission to steal bits and pieces from whomever and make them your own. Collect good karma by giving props to the origin person when the opportunity arises.

Takeaway: Advice doesn't need to be a dirty word. Sometimes advice can be really terrible, and sometimes is amazing and just what we need. Everyone - including coaches, Askholes, UAGs - can learn to have a better relationship with giving and taking advice.