ADVICE-GIVING: THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT OF MENTORING, COACHING AND PEER ASSISTANCE

 

Photo of lion growling at another lionAdvice-giving in a coaching, mentoring, or peer assistance relationship appears to be a controversial topic. Yet, access to such advice is often the most frequent reason why clients seek the help of coaches, mentors, and peers. How can there be such a disconnect between the anti-advice-giving training that these practitioners receive and the desire on the part of clients and partners to obtain such advice? This article identifies the origin of the no-advice principle, and provides a concrete alternative that enables clients to maximize their needs, and coaches, mentors and peer leaders to maximize their skill.
Prohibitions Against Advice-Giving
Lesley Matile, the Managing Director of The Coach Academy and a 25-year veteran coach exemplifies the standard view of advice-giving. She believes that "in the purest form of coaching, which I believe is the most beneficial to clients, there is no room for advice-giving." She equates "purest form" with a "non-directive" approach to coaching. She has merged the counselling technique originally developed and perfected by psychologist Carl Rogers with coaching. She thinks that giving advice hinders client motivation, ownership, commitment to change, and reduces life-long learning. She does provide two benchmarks to use to determine whether advice given by a coach has value for the client. She instructs coaches to keep track of the number of times a client will say "Yes, but" as a reaction to a coach giving advice; and (2) to track the action taken by the client as a result of coach suggestions versus ideas the client has generated as a result of asking the client a "wisdom-accessing" question.
Management expert Chris Argyris (1999) supports Lesley's position. Mr. Argyris argues that a preponderance of advice from the "masters" is full of mixed messages and often yields a range of unintended and counterproductive consequences. Often people send these mixed messages without any awareness of doing so. And in many cases the sender may also send a subtle message that says this advice is not for discussion or full examination. Not all advice will lead to disaster, and Argyris tempers his view by providing a basis for determining how to sort the good from the bad.
Rosamunde Bott (2007), a career and writing coach, believes that making suggestions to clients can actually have a catalytic impact and often helps a "stuck" client or session get back on track. She supports the necessity for a coach to be flexible and not become paralyzed by a coach training instruction such as "coaches should not give advice."
Copy of Parent book cover by Tom GordonIt's likely that the prohibition of advice-giving in a helping relationship was made popular almost 50 years ago when Tom Gordon, a student of Carl Rogers, created the revolutionary approach to raising children known as "Parent Effectiveness Training." Gordon characterized the typical ways we respond to others into 12 categories called "Roadblocks to Communication." Such messages interfered with effective communication and typically made the person on the receiving end of such messages feel defensive, blamed, angry, accused, patronized, or admonished; not the necessary ingredients for improving a relationship. Probably the most controversial "roadblock" he identified and the one that appeared to be the most difficult to stop was "giving advice."
Tom Gordon based his practical ideas on the work of psychotherapists Carl Rogers and Alan Carr, both of whom had no place for advice in their therapy. Most of the thousands of lay practitioners who became advocates for Gordon's communication effectiveness approach described giving advice as a "no-no." Literally hundreds of books and articles on communication skills published after his pioneering work echoed or duplicated his twelve roadblocks approach (many without accurate attribution). Parents, teachers, and thousands of others learning the Tom Gordon system were stymied by this end to advice-giving and struggled to prevent it from creeping back into their repertoire.
The best contemporary media example of the prohibition of advice-giving in a helping relationship is depicted weekly in the award-winning TV-show In Treatment. This North American cable-TV show is about a psychologist, Dr. Paul Weston (superbly played by Golden Globe winner Gabriel Byrne), who provides weekly one-on-one psychotherapy to a series of four different clients. The show also includes a weekly session where the psychologist sees his own therapist, Dr. Gina Toll (brilliantly played by Oscar- and Emmy-winner Dianne Wiest).
The show is adapted from a popular Israeli television series and recast for a North American audience. Each week, at some point during the patient's half-hour session, the patient will ask the therapist for advice. The psychologist always responds by asking the patient a probing question, and never gives the requested advice.
While the show is intense, moving, and very realistic, it also has some lighter moments--one of which highlighted the advice-giving dilemma. At one point when Dr. Weston is in session with his own therapist, he asks her for advice. The therapist responds with a question; to which the psychologist has a short tantrum and says, "Now I understand why my patients get so frustrated when I don't answer their questions. Just tell me what you think!"
The Carr Alternative for Effective Advice-Giving
But is advice-giving really a "no-no?" Isn't getting advice often the primary reason people seek out coaches, peers and mentors? And how many times have coaches and mentors had to "sit-on" an idea they thought would truly help the seeker merely because the "no-no" approach taught by all the disciples of "effective" communication admonished them against it.
There is an alternative. Years ago when I was one of Tom Gordon's students, I created a simple, five-point method for dealing with advice-giving. I modified my mentor's system so that the powerful human urge to give advice and the strong motivation to get advice from a peer assistant, mentor or coach could occur without being a roadblock to effective communication.
Drawing of agitated personIn my system, the first step for dealing with advice-giving is to determine the degree of risk associated with giving advice. For example, start by assessing the emotional state and the visionary capacity of the person asking for advice. Is the seeker overwhelmed, calm, agitated, enraged? The more activated (at one end of the emotional continuum) or the more depressed (at the other end of the continuum), the higher the risk that the advice will be meaningless, not heard, or completely rejected. Even worse (and often a stated reason for withholding advice), the advice seeker may act on the advice and when it doesn't work or leads to even more severe circumstances, the seeker blames the advice giver for the muck he or she is now mired in.
At the same time, a lack of vision, a low ability to forecast, or an inability to state goals, places the advice seeker in a poor position to understand advice and often leads to arguing with, disputing, or demeaning the advice giver. Persons who have a better idea of where they want to go and can articulate their goals are often able to hear advice not as a command, but as a possible option or suggestion.
Before doling out advice, then, the advice giver can reduce the risk of advice-giving contributing to poor communication by assessing both the emotional state and visionary ability of the seeker. When the assessment results in a low-risk conclusion, then advice-giving is more likely going to contribute to an improved and fulfilling relationship. (When the assessment reveals a high-risk situation, then continued deep listening and asking powerful questions are better options than advice-giving.)
Inviting a response logoWhen the advice giver determines that the seeker is in an appropriate low-risk state to receive advice, he or she can then extend what I callstep two or "the invitation." In many cases the seeker has already specifically asked me for advice. But if this hasn't happened or is implied, I will ask seekers whether they think my sharing a similar experience and what I did about it might be helpful to their situation. In other words, I want the seeker to invite my contribution. I recommend an invitation such as "Would it be useful to you for me to let you know what I did about a similar situation and how it turned out for me?" This step can help the seeker feel supported and that he or she is not alone.
In step three, which I call "the disclosure step" the advice-giver draws upon his or her own life experience and frames the advice within that experience. Rather than saying, "Here's what you should do..." the advice-giver constructs his or her advice as a personal statement: "When I was experiencing (the advice-giver describes his or her similar situation), here's what I did or thought..." (The amount of description of the experience may vary depending on the circumstances.) The two key elements to this step are the advice giver's ability to "own" the advice ("here's what I did" and not "you should do this...") and "frame" the advice within his or her own life experience.
The fourth step in effective advice-giving is called "the open dialogue step" and is simply the next sentence that follows the disclosure step. I recommend adding a question to the end of the disclosure statement such as: "In what way, if at all, does my advice fit for your situation?" or "Having heard my description and what I did or told myself, how close does that come for your situation, challenge, or circumstance?" The purpose here is to encourage the advice-seeker to honestly react, respond, reject, or modify the advice giver's statement without disrupting the relationship.
Finally, in step five the advice giver listens deeply to the reaction of the seeker and through asking powerful questions helps the seeker modify, revise, or create the advice as to what to do or think. I call this final step "switching gears," (a term borrowed from Tom Gordon). The purpose of this step is for the advice giver to "let go" of the need to give advice; and let of of the need to insure that the seeker complies with the advice. Instead the advice giver tunes-in even more deeply to the seeker's circumstances and life experience.
Advice-giving is neither good or bad in a coaching relationship. Instead, it's more useful to think of giving advice as having risks. As coaches, mentors and peer assistants we can reduce the risk and ensure that giving advice contributes to an empowering relationship. Since giving advice and seeking advice are so strongly ingrained in our being, it's probably more useful to figure out how to do it effectively rather than relying on the more outdated communication skills models that prohibit giving advice.
References
Argyris, C. (1999). Flawed advice and the management trap: How managers can know when they're getting good advice and when they're not. London: Oxford University Press. This book can be purchased through Amazon.ca (for Canadian orders),Amazon.com (for US orders), or Amazon.co.uk for international orders.

Bott, R. (2007). To advise or not. Personal Success Magazine. (Retrieved April 30, 2009 from http://tinyurl.com/cjjfx6)

Sweeny, B. (2010). What a mentor can do when advice seems unwelcome. Peer Bulletin 210. (Retrieved November 2013 from http://www.peer.ca/Projects/Bulletin194.html).

Underhill, B. (2014). To give or not to give (advice, that is). CoachSource.

“ShPhoto of Dave Thomasare your success and help others succeed. Give everyone a chance to have a piece of the pie. If the pie’s not big enough, make a bigger pie.”~ Dave Thomas (1932-2002) ~
Founder of Wendy’s and Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption
Mentored by Phil Clauss and KFC founder Harland Sanders

Walter Cronkite (1916-2009): Remembering His Legacy

179_walter-cronkitenewsWalter Cronkite was one of the most recognizable and trusted journalists of the last 60 years. No other figure prompted as many young people to pursue journalism as a profession. And very few journalists provided as much mentoring to others as Mr. Cronkite. “Like many other aspiring journalists,” said Gordon Joseloff, “I grew up watching Walter and idolizing him. I was watching when he told us John Kennedy had died, when he said the conflict in Vietnam could no longer be won, and when man walked on the moon.”

When millions of Americans heard: “Direct from our newsroom in New York, this is the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite,” hundreds started to dream of launching a career in broadcasting.

Bob Schieffer, who anchored the Saturday edition of the CBS Evening News from 1973 to 1996 said, “Walter used to talk to the reporters, he’d call you out on the beat – ‘what’s going on, why did they say this, why did they do 179_bob-schiefferthat.’ But, on those days when Walter would call you after the broadcast and say, ‘good job on that tonight,’ you really felt good about it because that was the highest compliment you could get.”

179_danratherDan Rather, who succeeded his mentor as the anchor of the CBS Evening News (1981-2005), said of his mentor in a report to NewsBusters: “Walter’s instructions to us in the field were always, you know, ‘Tell it straight without fear or favoritism. Pull no punches. Say it like it is, insofar as is humanly possible. Keep your own prejudices and biases and feelings and emotions out of it.’” Mr. Rather described his mentor as a person “who took the news seriously, but he didn’t take himself all that seriously.”

179_katie-couricKatie Couric, a journalist who moved from NBC to CBS and became the first solo female anchor of a major US-TV network, also recalls Walter Cronkite as her mentor. Ms. Couric saw him as a standard setter, who could balance objectivity with compassion and emotion. “I admired his honor, integrity and decency, and his spirit lives on in a very palpable way in the hallways of CBS.”

“His legacy is extraordinary,” she recently said in an interview show. “I get so inspired when I re-read something he wrote. When I got the job at CBS he took me out to dinner and told me about some of his greatest thrills as a journalist. And in every story he emphasized how important it was to be fair and objective. When he talked about President Kennedy’s funeral he got teary and I started to cry. But he also beamed with joy when he talked about the first space capsule. His voice was full of the enthusiasm of a child. I took to heart one of his most important perspectives on the news: ‘Get it first, but get it right.’”

The American public knew Mr. Cronkite for his objectivity, seriousness, and fact-based reporting, but less known was his playful nature outside of the newsroom. As reported in The New York Observer, Don Hewitt, the creator of 60 Minutes, told an anecdote about Mr. Cronkite’s sense of humor. “A new reporter had arrived while we were at Cape Canaveral,” said Mr. Hewitt, “and Walter said to him, ‘If you just keep looking at that rocket there on that green patch at the end of the runway there, you’ll see it blast off. Just don’t take your eyes off it.’ The guy sat there for six hours waiting for it to go off. It was a lighthouse.”

Mr. Cronkite also demonstrated that being a journalist did not mean withholding opinions. He believed, for example, that “America’s health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.” He also noted the limits of a mentoring relationship when he said about Dan Rather: “He and I just aren’t especially chummy.” He also was concerned about leading a balanced life and said “I think somebody ought to do a survey as to how many great, important men have quit to spend time with their families who spent any more time with their family.”

Mr. Cronkite had a passion for sailing and New Orleans jazz. The New York Times reported that Mr. Cronkite liked to exchange off-color jokes with Ronald Reagan and “whimsically competed with his friend Johnny Carson to see who could take the most vacation time without getting fired.” (Source: New York Observer)

Partly because of his significant influence as a mentor, Arizona State University (ASU) established The Walter Cronkite Mentorship Program at the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. This program pairs students in the graduate program with experienced journalists.

Mr. Cronkite was clearly the most trusted journalist of all time. While I didn’t know him personally he taught me a valuable lesson that I have never forgotten and that I use continuously, and for which I owe him a debt of gratitude.

179_reyatsfstateDuring my graduate student days at San Francisco State University (then called San Francisco State College), I was, like students all across the US, actively involved in protesting the American war in Vietnam. My generation of anti-Vietnam war protestors owes him a significant debt. The efforts to end the US involvement in Vietnam through the mobilization of the largest anti-war movement in the history of the United States met with limited success.

But on February 27, 1968, US President Lyndon Johnson watched Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News comment that the Vietnam war was not winnable and an end must be negotiated, “not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.” President Johnson is reported to have responded by saying, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” Several weeks later President Johnson stunned a nation-wide TV audience when he announced he would not seek reelection.

The mentoring lesson I learned from Mr. Cronkite was that significant and lasting change can only come about from trust. It is seldom achieved through protest or aggression. I have carried that learning on in my work as a peer assistant, coach, mentor, employee, and CEO, as well as in my personal life with my family and friends.

“And that’s the way it is.”

Warren Bennis (1925-2014), Leadership consultant

Warren_BennisOne of the most sought after business leadership consultants in history, Warren Bennis advised presidents, business leaders, and students, and along the way became one of the most generous of mentors. He wrote more than 30 books on leadership and earned the title, “father of leadership.”

As an educator he led classes at Harvard, Boston University, MIT, and USC. His own mentors included Nobel Prize winning scholars, and one of the most well-known of his mentors was social psychologist Douglas McGregor. Dr. Bennis said Doug McGregor, “Pulled qualities from me I didn’t know were present. He not only recognized my potential, but he also gave me confidence.”

“Having a mentor like Warren Bennis,” wrote Dr. Mark Goulston, “not only makes you want to do a better job, it makes you want to be a better person.” Another business leader mentored by Warren Bennis was Dave Logan, founder of CultureSync. In describing the many things he learned from his mentor Dr. Logan said, “I’ve learned that no matter how busy I am, life will go much better for everyone (including me) if I take time out to mentor.”

Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-2012), Neurophysiologist

Levi-MontalciniBorn in Turin, Italy, Rita Levi-Montalcini had to overcome her father’s objections that women should not study in order to obtain her degree in medicine and surgery from Turin University in 1936. She often credited her own mentor, anatomist Giuseppe Levi, for her success.

Her early career in Italy during the Fascist regime was hampered because as a Jew she was banned from working at a university. Instead she carried out her experiments in the bedroom of her home where she studied chicken embryos, but the German invasion of Italy forced her and her family to go underground. When eggs became scarce during the war, she would bike around the countryside to buy them from farmers.

In 1947 she was invited to work at Washington University in St Louis. Her research on the growth of cells increased the understanding of many conditions, including tumors and senile dementia. She won the Nobel Prize in 1986 for her discovery of nerve growth factors. The women scientists she mentored believed they learned tenacity, focus, the power of the mind, and the importance of relationships as a result of her attention to their development.

Purdy Crawford (1932-2014) Lawyer and Business Executive

Purdy_CrawfordFor a person who didn’t think of himself as a mentor, Purdy Crawford, a Canadian legal expert and business executive, left a legacy of many people he mentored. One of those he mentored became the first woman to serve as a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. At a time when women were struggling to gain access to the old boy’s club of legal firms in Toronto, Purdy Crawford hired her to work with him, and acted as an advocate or sponsor for her early career advancement.

Gordon Pitts, who wrote a book about Mr. Crawford said that Crawford’s “greatest contribution to Canada was serving as a personal mentor for generations of young people who now form a who’s who of Canada’s most influential leaders,” including Canada’s Governor General David Johnston, and the CEO’s of some of Canada’s major corporations.

Mr. Crawford’s obituary in the August 16 issue of the Globe and Mail newspaper reported that “Deborah Alexander, executive vice-president and general counsel at Bank of Nova Scotia said Mr. Crawford was her most important mentor as a young lawyer,” and that much of her personal success is attributable to him.

Paul Horn (1930-2014): Jazz Musician Mentor, Flautist, Composer, Guru of New Age Music

Paul Horn Jazz MentorA Grammy Award winning musician who performed with Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and many others, and who recorded over 50 albums, including the classic that began the New Age music era, Inside the Taj Mahal, British Columbia resident Paul Horn studied transcendental meditation (TM) with the Maharishi in India at the same time as the Beatles, Mike Love of the Beach Boys and Donovan. His reverence for deep philosophical thought was considered a major influence on the Fab Four, and after their meeting in India Paul became one of the very first TM teachers in the United States. He said that TM was instrumental in changing the way he looked at a lot of things in life and that it reorganized his priority system: “You start gravitating toward what you really should be doing in life,” he said.

Despite his philosophical and spiritual interests increasingly pulling him away from the music business, his dedication to integrating those interests with his music led one of the many he mentored to say that Paul once told him “Listen close; listen for the possibilities in silence; and whenever you’re playing, let people hear your soul.”

Eileen Ford (1922-2014): Fashion Industry Mentor

Eileen Ford Fashion MentorSetting the standard for the beauty industry in 1946 when she and her husband started the Ford Modelling Agency, Eileen Ford built an empire and launched the careers of Candice Bergen, Lauren Hutton, Jane Fonda, Suzy Parker, Ali McGraw and countless others.

Ms. Ford believed that a model’s personality was as important as her looks, and she established herself as a mentor with virtually all the women who worked at her agency. The youngest often lived at her apartment, and she insisted that they focus on studies and education. On one occasion she prohibited the young Kim Basinger from going out before finishing her French homework. Supermodel Christy Brinkley said of Ms. Ford, “She saw something in me and with her brilliant business acumen, her knowledge, experience and personal touch, she took me from Malibu surfer girl and guided my career.”

Ms. Ford, who herself obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Barnard College, was adamant that all her models learn how to take care of themselves, and almost all of them became successful business women in their own right.