Stop Giving Everyone Advice

Stop Giving Everyone Advice

Nat Greene is a business leader, author, and champion of great problem-solving. He helps smart people make radically better decisions. Here he offers some advice about helping those under your leadership learn to solve problems on their own–instead of always needing to ask your advice.

When someone comes to you for advice, there is an incredibly tempting instinct that it may be better to stifle—and that is the instinct to give them the very advice that they’re looking for. It’s natural to want to give someone a solution right away. But giving advice may not be the best way to help them solve the problem.

Why Giving Advice Doesn’t Work

When you give someone an idea about how to solve their problem, you presume that you know enough about their problem that you have the best solution. In reality, you’re guessing. You might feel confident in your guess: you may have been in a similar situation in the past, or read about a similar situation somewhere.

But if you have not been working together on this problem for a long time, then you really know very little about their problem. You haven’t been in their shoes, and you haven’t experienced the problem first-hand. This means that your guessed advice, more often than not, will simply miss the mark.

What to Do Instead

In reality, the person asking for advice is the person best positioned to solve their own problem. Instead of trying to solve the problem for them, you can empower them to solve it themselves. This not only means a much better solution, but a great opportunity for your employee to grow.

If you understand great problem-solving behaviors, you can help them by asking questions that will help them to organize and synthesize the information about the problem they already have, and to get more critical information about the problem. Such questions would help your advice-seeker learn more about the problem and the factors that control it, so they can better understand what they can change in order to solve the problem.

Here Are A Few Behaviors You Can Help Them Adopt

Know What Problem You’re Solving: Ask questions that help them define the problem very rigorously. In particular, make sure their problem definition does not include assumptions about what’s causing the problem. Don’t let them define the problem in terms of blaming others. A good question to ask is, “what is the objectively observable problem you’re experiencing?” If it’s impossible to reasonably object to the problem definition, it’s probably a good one.

Smell the Problem: Ask them how they can become intimately familiar with the problem and understand its pattern more deeply. The root causes of many problems can become readily apparent by understanding the pattern of failure. Ask questions such as:

  • When did the problem start?
  • When or under what circumstances does the problem occur?
  • When does it not occur when you might expect it to?

Dig into the Fundamentals: Every process is controlled by underlying forces, whether they’re in a physical process or in our brains. Understanding the science behind a problem will help reveal the key drivers causing it, and help your employee in developing a solution. Ask them to identify what science lies behind their problem, and where they can learn more about it to take a deeper cut.

Teaching others about great problem-solving behaviors will take more time than giving them a quick guess, but it’s far more likely to help them solve their problem. (tweet this) Better yet, it will empower their independence and confidence.

Learn more about the behaviors in Stop Guessing: the 9 Behaviors of Great Problem Solvers, and take this online quiz to learn your greatest problem-solving strengths.



Nat GreeneNathaniel Greene is the co-founder and current CEO of Stroud International, and author of Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem-Solvers. Nat has a Masters of Engineering from Oxford University and studied design, manufacturing and management at Cambridge University, in addition to executive education coursework in Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management program.



Image credit: geralt


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