When Advice is Not the Answer

A woman and man are talking after work. She complains about day, he gives advice and she gets angry, exclaiming that he’s not listening or doesn’t understand her.

Men are left bewildered, “Well why talk about a problem if you don’t want my advice?”

Now, here’s the secret code of conduct:

Women know how to deal with the problem, most of the time. That’s not why they’re talking – it’s just to emotionally let off steam.

Cutting in with advice may be repelled as it seems patronising, unless you show understanding before you do.

Having said this, I cut in on the complaining with a range of males  by proffering (unasked for) advice.

My extensive research yielded anger and frustration in 95% of cases.

The others don’t count as they never listen anyway. So there we are. It’s not just a man/woman thing. It’s more general than that.

So I switched to empathy and one of either two outcomes occurred:

  1. my research subjects changed the subject.  I even shut a barrister up.  Amazing.
  2. if empathy didn’t stop the conversation, it continued it.  When that happens, read on…

How to give advice

Ask – permission “May I suggest something?”
Tell – give the advice
Ask – approval “Is that helpful?”, “Is there anything in there, that you can use?”

You can also use stories so the conversation will look like this:

  • Ask

“Can I tell you about something that happened to…You may relate to this…”

note: you’re not assuming that the story is anything like their situation and you’re covering yourself.  It’s like those situations when people say ‘The exact same thing happened to me!’ and then they tell as tale that bears no relation to your own experience.

  • Tell – story
  • Ask – as before.
How would you apply this advice (!) specifically to your client and colleague relationships?


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