Will Rogers once said, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” Rogers’ sage words should be taken to heart the next time someone approaches you for your advice, perspective, and wisdom. Despite our instinct to jump right in and offer others practical skills, solutions, and the lessons learned from our experiences, the first thing any good adviser does is realize that giving good advice is less about your expertise and more about enabling the other person to clarify and think critically about the matter at hand.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, “The Art of Giving and Receiving Advice,” by David Garvin and Joshua Margolis, good advice has several key components: listening for understanding, developing a shared understanding, clarifying another’s thinking, and creating alternatives. These components are key to making sure that the advice seeker walks away with more than do this and don’t do that.
It is only by listening for understanding that you can determine if you are the appropriate person to be weighing in on this topic. Listening to better understand the needs of the advice seeker is critical to influencing and shaping another’s thinking without disempowering them to act. Not jumping in too quickly with solutions and suggestions of what to do helps the advice seeker to clarify their thinking, identify biases, focus on collaboratively creating alternatives, and build their confidence and motivation to act upon their choices. Good advice leaves the responsibility for the choices in the hands of the advice seeker while empowering them to achieve their goal, increase their momentum, and motivate them to move forward to action.
The value of advice well given comes not from providing solutions or showcasing how much you know but in the learning you achieve from facilitating the learning process for another person. Often in helping others, we help to shine the light on our own biases, flaws in logic, and inside-of-the-box thinking. So the next time someone approaches you for advice, take Will Rogers’ advice and just “shut up” and listen.