2 ways to ask for help that is actually helpful (3 min read)

I think this is going to be one of my least popular posts but I want to share what I have learned recently.  I hope you read it with an open mind.

We all go around asking for and dispensing advice as easily and probably as often as waking up in the morning or breathing.  It is a time honored tradition. We think we are helping or being helped but most of the time advice adds little to no value.

Giving advice is a bad idea for these reasons:

  1. The recipients, even when they ask for it, have an initial negative reaction. They can’t help it. Our primitive brain rejects change and new ideas as a threat by default. Unfortunately this part of our brain is the first stop for anything new so there is no getting around it.
  2. They usually don’t follow it anyway
  3. If they do follow it and it does not work out, they have you to blame
  4. The receiver is put into a “one-down” position which can be uncomfortable due to loss of independence and status.

Although it sounds like a no win situation. After all, how are we to help our family or friends or colleagues?

Below are some proven alternatives to the time honored tradition of advice giving.

Alternative Option

For those who are seeking an alternative, here are some suggestions that come from my experience and from Taming the Primitive Brain by Mark Bowden:

#1 – Offer information instead

  • Information is a pre-cursor to knowledge.  Give an example or two of something that happened to you or someone you know in a similar situation.  The recipient can incorporate this into her own decision process.
  • Receiving information provides a higher level of confidence when the decision is ultimately made.
  • People feel better when they come up with reasons for their choice that they have worked through on their own versus being told/advised what to do. They are also much more likely to follow through.
  • This process gives the receiver a hit of dopamine when making the final choice on their own.

#2 – Ask Questions as an alternative to giving advice

Clarification questions:

For instance, How long has this been happening?  What was discussed during the interview related to your duties? How long has the company been doing business this way?

Clarification questions give you a fuller picture and can pave the way for any number of the following types of questions.

Side Note – “Can you tell me more?” is always a good go to question when you are stuck.

Assumption questions:

For instance, is this discussion based on an assumption or set of assumptions? What could we assume instead? What has been the process to disprove of verify these assumptions?

Many people sit with assumptions for so long that they become emotionally attached and sometimes forget that they are assumptions and may not be entirely correct.  Asking someone to step back and separate their assumptions can allow them to re-look at a familiar situation in a new light.

Reason or evidence questions:

For instance, what might be the underlying cause of this? Have you seen this happen first hand?  What did you observe? Is there 3rd party data to support this?

Similar to assumption questions, reason questions allow someone to change their perspective on their own in a gentle way.  Coming to your own conclusion versus someone else telling you so is always a preferred method for mostly everyone.

Viewpoint and perspective questions:

For instance, what are some other ways to view this? What do you think so and so would say about this? How do you feel about this? What are your thoughts? Some call this perceptual positioning.

Implications and consequences questions:

What impact will this have to others? How will it affect you? How do you think it will affect me? What might happen if we take no action instead?

By asking consequence and viewpoint questions you can create a fuller perspective by putting yourself in other people’s proverbial shoes.  It may decrease the chance that what you hope will happen becoming the only option in your mind thus limiting your ability to look at the problem holistically.

I am sure there are other ways to help others without dispensing advice but you can try one of these next time someone asks for advice from you. Or, if you are looking for help, maybe instead of asking someone for advice you could ask that person to help you think through the situation instead.

If you want my advice, this sounds like a much better way to go! :~)

Be Exceptional!
(www.catalystgrowthadvisors.com; bill@catalystgrowthadvisors.com)

I look forward to your comments. If you found this post useful, please share, comment and/or like.

Published by Bill Flynn

Gazelles Member Advisor and early stage startup specialist with a proven track record with 16 Boston-based startups (9 to date with 5 successful outcomes, advisor to 7 others); SMB to Fortune 500 companies. 20+ years of Senior Sales, Marketing and GM experience in industries including mobile advertising, security, digital advertising, e-commerce and IT. Core Competencies: Player/Coach, Metrics-driven, Execution-based philosophy, Life-long learner

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