Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lessons Learned on Giving and Receiving Advice

I have often heard the joke that opinions are like ____________ because everybody has one! Well I will add to that that most people have more than one opinion very often several that are all conflicting!
I have had some time to reflect this week over our Spring Break and in looking through past notes and letters on my computer I found one that I wrote to my daughter titled “Unwanted Advice Because I Love You.” It brought me back several years (let’s say at least six) to when she was in high school and not necessarily making the right decisions or seeing how her decisions affected others.
What brought the letter on in the first place were my observations of her behavior in treating someone who loved her as an inconvenience. I posted the letter to her door because I knew she would not sit down with me and truly listen so I figured if I put it into words that she could read and go over, it might make an effect. Long story short…It had no effect on her what so ever. She did what she wanted.
What is the lesson from this? Well first as heartfelt (and sage I must say) my advice was, it also was unwanted. Although I thought hanging a note on a teenagers door was a good way to communicate at the time (you mothers of teens out there completely understand this), it was not! Looking back a simple I Love You and am here to talk would have been much better.
As I read and reread the letter, it was all about my past mistakes and how I didn’t want her to treat people as if they had no worth. Although I had learned the lesson, she was not ready. It was all about me and not about her. Fast forward to today and my daughter is happy has some close friends and is getting ready to graduate college. Does she honor and treat people well? Yes. She is actually the champion for the underdog. Is she perfect? No!  Am I? No way!
So what happened, she learned the lesson herself….that is a hard thing for a parent to watch. We often want to spare our children from that painful process of making mistakes and the backlashes that mistakes can cause. Our advice may be good, but it is like saying to three year old that the Pythagorean Theorem is going to come in handy one day! They are not ready!
We do the same thing with our students and even our teachers. Though as leaders we are expected to give advice, we also have to do something to make the receiving party ready to hear advice. If someone is not ready to change they will not!  An example is this week I started a diet. Now I have known for a while that I am carrying a little extra weight but until I made the decision for myself to make a true change, it did not happen. Like a diet, change will be slow, there may be no evidence for weeks and there will be ups and downs, but hopefully a few months from now the change will be noticeable.
So my rules (and these are mine so adjust as you will and realize two paragraphs up I am not perfect)
Advice for Family and Close Friends
1.      It is better if they ask, but if they are doing something that could hurt themselves or others jump in right away and be directive.
2.      When speaking to them do not condescend, but come from a place of love. Try to see and feel what they are going through.
3.      Listen with your heart and mind.
4.      Ask them what they hope to get out of the advice…what is their future goal?
5.      Help them map the way. Lead them but let them make the decisions to change. Just like a diet it won’t work unless they own it.
6.      If they do not take your advice still Love them and be there. Remember change is slow and you may be making small inroads to change but like a diet will not see the results for a while.
Advice for Professionals is pretty much the same maybe with a little more direction.
 Now here is the kicker…..What about when you need advice? Recently I was approached by someone giving me advice. I was offended because not only did I not want to hear it, but I had so many other things on my priority list.  
Reflecting back now the advice was good. So how do we take advice and from who?
Rules for taking advice
1.      Am I perfect? No then listen or schedule a time when you can
2.      Where is this person coming from? Do they have ulterior motives or are they truly on the same page with you and your organization?
3.      Put your ego aside and listen
4.      Ask yourself if this advice fits in with your long range vision
5.      Finally bounce the advice off of someone you know will tell it like it is
Seems pretty simple but as leaders we do get a lot of “unwanted advice.” Some of it is good, some pie in the sky, and some completely not possible. If we listen and truly listen, we at least validate the other person and everyone has worth.
As they say advice is free but good advice is priceless…..make yourself ready to hear…model that behavior for others and the sharing of ideas will flourish.

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