Business owners are often looking for advice on strategies, tactics, and key decisions. However, while offering straight up advice might seem like an obvious solution, in the big picture, advice-giving is not the best approach.
Groups like the Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) have discovered the downsides to advice giving and have actually worked it into their values and ground rules. They follow gestalt protocol which prohibits members from giving each other advice. Instead, gestalt protocol encourages experience-sharing to help each other with personal and business challenges.
While withholding advice might seem counterintuitive when people are asking for it, there are several reasons why it's a bad idea and why experience sharing is more powerful in the long run.
1. You'll never know all of the details.
To give advice is to make conclusions about the data presented and to give a suggested course of action. The problem is that you can never really know all of the details. There are subtleties, backgrounds, and nuances that would take days to dig into. Which means that any conclusion you draw on someone else's situation will be missing some amount of information. It takes too much time to be able to gather everything you need in order to make a solid recommendation.
2. You assume your goals, values, and priorities.
Assuming you have all of the details, every decision also assumes a set of personal goals, values, and priorities. And even if you know the other person well, your values and priorities are ultimately different, so you'll bias your suggestions based on your own answers to these questions, not theirs.
You may value winning more than relationships or you might care more about experiences than money. These philosophies turn into choices and they have a considerable impact on the path you take.
3. You give them an out.
When you give someone advice on a decision or path and she takes it, she tends to own it if it goes well, but she will also tend to blame you when it doesn't. By taking your advice, he or she can make you at least partially responsible for the outcome. If your goal is to truly help the other person, this advice can get in the way.
4. You deny them the chance to learn and grow.
Often our greatest learnings come in the crucible of our hardest and most important decisions. In these moments we are forced to define our goals, articulate our values, and determine our priorities. When we rely on external advice we skirt the hard work and just go with what's presented as a short cut.
When you resist giving advice and share experience instead, you create new opportunities for others to learn and grow.
5. You give them new information.
Discussing past experiences focuses on sharing valuable information. It could be options you created, resources you developed, or relationships you leveraged. Often the best experiences are the ones that didn't work out so well. Explaining what led to a bad outcome can highlight something that the other person is missing.
6. You give them new perspectives.
Sometimes you don't need to add anything to the situation to be helpful; you just need to give it a different spin. We can often feel stuck because we assume things are a certain way or we have to approach from a specific angle.
Some of the best experience shares that I've been a part of have done nothing more than re-frame a situation in a more positive or neutral light. This can make all of the difference to someone who is feeling stuck.
7. You help create new options.
Choosing a path can be tough if you only see a limited set of options. Experience shares can open up ways of moving forward that you hadn't seen previously. Sometimes it is as simple as making simple tweaks to current ideas based on new perspectives.
8. You allow others to build on your sharing.
If you're sharing experiences as a group, you create opportunities for others to build on your experience share by sharing their own, similar situations. Advice tends to incite debate and argument; experience fosters reflection and ideas.
9. You allow others to learn at the same time.
Many times I've been in situations where people are sharing to help one person with their challenge and they end up helping each other, sometimes in completely unforeseen ways. Hearing someone talk about a time when they grappled with a problem and discovered a solution allows everyone to learn from that lesson. If the person had just given advice, the rest of us would miss out on that opportunity.
It's easy to fall into the advice-giving trap. We love to help people and we want to fix problems. However, taking a step back and thinking about what experiences lead you to want to give that advice creates a moment of deeper reflection which can enlighten you, the person you want to help, and everyone listening in.