Taming Your Advice Monster

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For the past few weeks, I’ve been going through an internal workshop at Zapier called “Coaching For Performance.” I have many takeaways that I’m trying to implement in my own work. By far the most difficult strategy though involves “taming the advice monster.”

I imagine you’re familiar with this concept already. The advice monster frequently rears its head when someone approaches you with a problem. You listen patiently for a minute or two and then immediately begin offering up your advice.

Because, obviously, you have the solution, and they need to hear how awesome it is!

Maybe a solution is exactly what the person was looking for but probably not. Maybe they just wanted to talk through the issue and be heard. Maybe they wanted your feedback on a specific piece. Maybe they could come up with a solution on their own.

Engaging your advice monster has some obvious negative consequences:

  • You’re robbing the other person of a learning opportunity. Giving answers works in the short-term but not in the long-term.
  • You’re reducing their sense of autonomy. Instead of empowering them to resolve their own issues, you’re creating a bottleneck where you’re the answer provider.
  • You’re sending the subtle message of “You can’t figure this out yourself.”

The list goes on!

These downsides are obvious. You and I both know better than to continually engage our advice monsters. So, why do we do it constantly?

The advice monster personas

I really enjoyed this TEDx presentation from Michael Bungay Stanier on the topic. He outlines three advice monster personas that resonated with me:

  • “Tell It” – This persona encourages you to believe that the only way you add value to a relationship or organization is by having all of the answers.
  • “Save It” – You’re convinced that your job is to save everyone from failing and struggling.
  • “Control It” – You win through maintaining control of everything at all times.

The underlying message across all of these personas is an inflated sense of self-importance. “I’m the hero here. I have all the answers. I’m smarter and more experienced than you.”

That doesn’t match how I’d like to come across in relationships.

Do this instead

For strategies, I appreciated Michael’s advice:

Stay curious longer.

Instead of jumping into advice mode, stay curious. Ask more questions. Don’t rush into solution mode. Identify the specific challenge at hand.

Specifically, I’ve leaned on the following phrases when I feel my advice monster popping up:

  • “What do you think?” – Useful anytime I find myself offering a solution first instead of getting their input.
  • “How can I best help?” – Or, what do you need from me? Useful when I’m not quite sure how I can best help. Ask; don’t assume.
  • “What else?” – This is useful for digging deeper into a problem until we understand the root issue and possible solutions.

Default to asking questions instead of providing solutions.

Photo credit: TED Ideas

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