How to turn advice-seeking into self-propelled solution finding

Try listening first when asked for advice
Photo by Nathan Rupert

Have you ever noticed how when a friend comes to you for advice it seems like they are not open to it? They start to tell you their story and when you offer suggestions they respond with “No, that won’t work…” or “Well, I thought of that but…” This can be frustrating because you feel like they are coming to you for help but they are not willing to listen to your ideas.

When this happens, first I tell my ego to sit down and then I remind myself that they may actually just need someone to listen to them and that, ideally, they want to come up with the solution on their own.

Here’s how you can use a simple 3-step process to help others get to solutions faster*.

1. Listen to their story. When someone starts their story, I remind myself they need to be heard to be ready to find solutions. Until they feel as though they have been heard, they may be blocked from solutions. You play a crucial role at this stage because they just need someone to listen to them. Also, if you have not really heard the whole story, they may notice that you do not understand them fully and spend time on explaining themselves before they can begin to work on a solution*

2. Wait for them to ask you: Well, What do you think? I have found that a key indicator that a person is ready to work towards a solution is when they ask you: What do you think? When they are complete in telling their story they will come back to why they sought you out in the first place and ask you for your advice.

3. Ask them: What do you think your options are? It is much more powerful for someone to come up with a solution on their own. The goal is for them to feel good about their decision and have ownership of it. Often times once they lay out the options, the evaluation of the options naturally follows and they can make a decision on what to do. It may help to ask them what kind of criteria would help them to evaluate the options. If they still ask you for directly for advice, you may say something like: You are the best person to make this decision because you know the situation most intimately. What’s holding you back?

This process may take 2 minutes or it may take more than an hour. By listening until they ask you what you think and helping them understand what their options are you can help others come to a solution on their own that is more meaningful than any advice that you could ever give.

How do you handle it when friends ask you for advice?

* These ideas are a culmination of my own coaching experience in personal and work life and being guided by Stephen Covey – 7 Habits (Listen first) and Cognitive Coaching by Arthur Costa and Rober Garmston.

Sidenote: I also use this method to coach myself: I write out my story and then ask myself, what are my options? I might use a mind map to come up with ideas and then evaluate them and make a decision.

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