Think back to a time when you gave someone a piece of advice where you explained what they “needed to do,” using the phrase, “If I were you, I would…”
Was your advice well received? Was the person grateful? Or, did s/he look right through you, or away from you ignoring everything you said? In either scenario, you may think you’ve done someone a favor by imparting your wisdom to solve their problem, but what you’ve unwittingly done is create a huge problem for yourself. Read on…
Let’s take the case of a colleague or employee who shares a problem with you that they own, meaning that it is their problem, which doesn’t involve you. Within a few minutes of listening to him or her explain the situation, you intuitively know exactly how to fix their problem, and because you don’t have the time to deal with what you perceive to be a small, simple issue, you tell the person what they need to do. They’re relieved and thankful. Done. It’s over. Or is it?
What you’ve really done is personally take ownership of someone else’s problem and relieved them of the responsibility of solving it on their own. Although you put an end to a situation quickly and easily, and may have felt good about it, you also trained this person to come to you with any problems they have in the future. After all, who wouldn’t dump their problems on a willing soul?! Is this a role you wish to fill?
In the case of a colleague or employee who does not want, or expect you to fix their problem, your advice was likely taken as an insult. The reason is because by giving unsolicited advice, you indirectly told him or her that they do not have the intelligence to solve their own problem. Most people don’t want to be told what to do and they certainly don’t want to know what you would do if you were them. Most people want to talk through their problems with someone who will listen with an empathic ear. By giving unsolicited advice, you immediately place the receiver in a subservient role.
Offering advice is risky.
Solving other people’s problems also places you at risk. As you couldn’t possibly comprehend the full scope of another’s problem, your advice may be misguided and consequently compound the original problem into something much more serious where you will be to blame. It is for this reason that the person who owns the problem is the best person, and the most qualified person to solve it.
In leadership training (such as L.E.T.), participants are trained on how to facilitate the problem solving process so that the people learn how to solve their own problems. Active Listening plays a critical role in this process where the leader provides an environment for people to think through and analyze solutions. The beauty of this approach is that over time, people become much less dependent on you, the leader, to fix everything for them, no matter how simple or complex. You become a much more effective leader, and one with much less stress.