There are times when we are burning to offer advice to a coachee but reluctant to do so because of the notion that giving advice is just not done. And yet ….. how crazy is it to have a good idea and NOT pass it on? The question is how to maximise the chances of fair consideration and minimise the chances of rejection – when and how to offer advice? This is a particularly important question for managers adopting a coaching style: the manager does have an agenda and does sometimes have cause to make his or her views known.
Let’s think first about timing: when is it a good time to offer advice? The obvious answer is “when it’s asked for” but actually it’s not quite as simple as this! Even in this case, it’s better to explore the coachee’s own thoughts, experience and know-how first. If you don’t do this, in the context of what he or she wants, your ideas may well be greeted with a response like “I’ve tried that. It didn’t work” or “That wouldn’t work” or “I haven’t got time for that” …. However, if your exploration hasn’t yielded useful any ideas, this is probably the right time to provide some ideas of your own.
So now, the question is how to go about offering advice and here it’s worth first asking permission to do so: “would you like a suggestion?” Having received a definite yes, think about how to package your ideas. Here are a few possibilities:
- Be direct: this has the advantage of being quick and unambiguous
- Tell a story from your own experience. Putting the advice in story form makes it personal and vivid and so more compelling
- Offer the ideas as if from a third party – “I knew someone who always tackled this kind of thing like this ….” This has the advantage that the ideas can be rejected more easily if the third party isn’t in the room
- Offer the ideas as from an even more remote source – “x has written many articles on this kind of thing and his suggestion would probably be …” This gives the idea expert credibility and yet can still be easily rejected if it doesn’t fit.
The SF trainer, supervisor and consultant John Wheeler makes a useful distinction between the different tasks a manager may have, calling the roles gatekeeper, guru and guide. When the manager is being a gatekeeper – ie has standards or duties which have to be fulfilled in a particular way – than it is legitimate to be direct and specific in telling someone what to do. This isn’t giving advice, it’s giving instructions! But even in the role of guru – ie when the manager is an acknowledged expert in the topic – it may be less useful to be as direct as this in giving advice, and some of the other suggestions above may offer more acceptable ways of being helpful. Of course the role of guide – or coach – is one where one is indeed cautious about offering advice in any form.