BY Nicky Denegri

DATE: 19 JUN 2015


As you now know, one of the principles of coaching is that the client is resourceful. In other words s/he (often) knows what they could do to resolve an issue, so the coach's role is simply to unleash that resourcefulness. In doing so they help the client identify the "right" choices for themselves – based on the criteria that the client sets and measures each possible option against - and to decide on an action plan to get there.

In my early years as a coach I would sometimes itch with the desire to give my client advice - about those choices, about the rejected choices, about who knows what else.

But advice giving is a dangerous game. Whether your client asks for it, or it's unsolicited, if it works then you'll have set up a pattern for repeat behaviour, rendering them unable to think for themselves.

If it doesn't work, then you're to blame. Even worse, again this means that the client still has the excuse not to think for themselves. Because whatever has happened is your fault! So either way you're stuffed - and you haven't done your job properly!

I didn't give advice - thanks to the rigorous training I underwent - but I certainly was not (am not!) immune to its temptations. And this is something that coaching clients often tell me has happened to them previously, with predictably disastrous effect.

Now-the intention behind advice giving is usually good. The listener thinks - "Aha! I've seen/heard this before and I know EXACTLY what this person should do. I can help!" Only they don't. Not really. They hinder.

Sometimes the intention is less altruistic. It's motivated by a desire to bring the conversation to a close, because "I've heard this before-a million times. If I solve the problem for this person now I can go and do something more useful/worthwhile/relevant." But useful/worthwhile/relevant for whom, exactly? Not the coaching client, that's certain.

Now-occasionally you'll come across a situation where the client has decided to move forward and has an action on their list which is about researching something relevant. If you have information up your sleeve that is relevant information then you can and should let them know this. In doing so you should a) clearly badge it as information and b) explain that it's entirely up to them what they do with it. For example:

Client: "Ok so the first thing I need to do is get together a really good marketing plan for my future Business Development activities. Although I don't know where I can find an example of one."

Coach: "I have some information on who within your company has a number of examples. I can share that, but only if you are happy for me to do so. And of course, it's up to you whether you follow it up or not."

Client: "Yes please."

One of my coaching clients, when he has looked at all the options available to him, and set criteria to evaluate them from most to least useful, often asks "What have other people in my situation done?"

So I give him a very brief outline (taking care to preserve anonymity) of the choices they made. And then I'll say "So based on what you've heard, which if any of those options do you like the sound of?" and we go from there.

In everyday life we often give our family, friends and significant others advice. And just as often it backfires. Sometimes Mr D and I are mulling over an issue that he's dealing with, and I'll ask him whether he wants me to a) just listen, b) coach or c) give him advice. If it's c) then I will-but I am very happy for him to completely ignore it-I just enjoy it while I can!

So as the title of this blog suggests....when it comes to giving advice, a word of advice: don't!

Case study: Sandra
An enthusiastic and well-intentioned people manager, Sandra was disappointed to see a strong theme in her 360 feedback that said she was autocratic and directive. She genuinely thought that she took time to listen to what her team were telling her, and would support them to make the right choice. Or at least that was her intention. The effect, it seemed, was that people felt she waited until she had a minimum of information and would then interrupt and tell them what to do, without understanding what was really going on for them.

She decided that she would make a conscious effort to ask more questions first to really understand what people wanted from her; to understand their current level of skills and knowledge, and to have them outline what they thought the options available to them were.

And as a manager using a coaching style when appropriate, she decided that if she had information that was useful, she’d offer that to the person and allow them to make use of it or not.

Result? A much better relationship with her team members; more time freed up for her as she wasn’t directing all the time and more autonomy for all. Team members also started to make it explicit when they wanted her to tell them what she would do, based on her previous experience, and evaluate whether that fitted for them.


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about the author

Nicky Denegri is our Senior Consultant. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop her an email and we will be in touch.

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