A newer employee recently approached you for advice on a particularly thorny personal problem she was facing at work. She had an idea for tackling her problem. You had discouraged her idea citing a couple of reasons and offered your own idea as the best solution to her problem. “Advice from years of experience,” you had added. She had nodded her head in agreement.
A couple of weeks later, you discover that she had disregarded your advice and pursued her original idea. You are now annoyed at her and grumble: “Such a waste of my time! Why do people come to me for advice when they don’t intend to pay attention to my ideas? Nobody seems to respect words of wisdom anymore.”
Does the above experience sound familiar? Aren’t we often all-too-eager to offer others advice?
In the above narrative, the newer employee may not have wanted to take the suggested approach—she followed her own idea to manage her problem. Herein is one fundamental reality about offering advice: people rarely listen to others’ advice if they see a contradiction in their advice. In other words, the best advice you can offer others is the advice that they come up with themselves.
Mary Kay Ash on the Art of Listening
Mary Kay Ash, American entrepreneur and founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics discusses the art of listening in her book ‘People Management.’
Some of the most successful people-managers are also the best listeners.
[One manager] had been hired by a large corporation to assume the role of sales manager. But he knew absolutely nothing about the specifics of the business. When salespeople would go to him for answers, there wasn’t anything he could tell them–because he didn’t know anything! Nonetheless, this man really knew how to listen. So no matter what they would ask him, he’d answer, “What do you think you ought to do?” They’d come up with a solution; he’d agree; and they’d leave satisfied. They thought he was fantastic. He taught me this valuable listening technique, and I have been applying it ever since.
Many of the problems I hear don’t require me to offer solutions. I solve most of them by just listening and letting the grieving party do the talking. If I listen long enough, the person will generally come up with an adequate solution.
Call for Action
When a person approaches you for advice, he/she may have some faint idea to tackle the problem at hand.
Or, the person has already developed an idea. He/she would like you to serve as a ‘sounding-board’ for the idea–to reinforce the idea and confirm that this approach is appropriate.
After listening attentively to the person’s thoughts, ask “What do you think you ought to do?” Skilfully, lead the thought-process and encourage him/her to develop the solution. With this buy-in, the person will more likely follow your—really, his/her own—advice.
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