Results Masked as Advice

Change Anything is subtitled “The New Science of Personal Success.” Written by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan , and Al Switzler , the book bills itself as a strategic, step by step system for adopting—and sticking to—better behaviors. The authors have tested behavior changing methods, and claim to be able to help anyone break bad habits – from addiction to overeating to being stuck in your career.

One of the barriers to change, according to the authors, is the unhelpful advice people give you when they see you have a problem. We’ve all experienced this and the authors call it “Results masked as advice.” In other words, people are telling you what results that want you to achieve, instead of telling you what to do next. “Be a team player” or “Be more open to constructive criticism” sound like good advice, until you actually try to do it.

You might have thought all along that you were a great team player; how in the world do you act on that general piece of advice? It’s hard to figure out because it’s an outcome, and not an action step. Real advice tells you what to do. Instead of simply telling you to be a team player, your supervisor might offer specific steps:

  • Offer to help on projects instead of waiting to be asked
  • Offer to share information you learned at a seminar with the team
  • Offer to help with a team member’s duties while she’s on vacation
  • Offer to cross train on the new system

These steps are clear, well-defined, and actionable. They also give you a very clear idea on what your supervisor considers to be teamwork. You were always happy to help out when asked, and you thought that meant you were a great team player. From the suggestions above, you understand that your supervisor thinks that offering to help (instead of waiting to be asked) is what makes you a great team player.

Suddenly, all the praise and great assignments Melissa gets make sense – she’s always offering to help when a new project gets started. That probably also explains why she’s appointed as interim manager when the boss is away, even though you’re equally good at what you do and have been here as long.

Think about the last time you gave advice to your child at home. Did you make the same error? “If you want to go outside after dinner, I want to see your room all clean.” If you get pushback often on issues like this (“It IS clean!”) you may have the same problem as your supervisor. Try real advice instead.

  • Hang up all your clothes
  • Make the bed
  • Put the toys in the toy chest
  • Put away your homework and store the books in your book bag for tomorrow

The next time someone gives you outcomes masked as advice, ask for specific action steps that will move you closer to the goal. Then, take them.

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