Listen More, Talk Less


Two women having a conversation

In a previous post, I explored why giving advice isn’t working for you or the people you’re trying to help.  Today’s post is designed to get you into a productive listening mode. Michael Bungay Stanier is the author of The Advice Trap: Be Humble, Stay Curious & Change the Way You Lead Forever, a book about how to get rid of your tendency to jump in to give advice.

Bungay Stanier calls our advice habit our Advice Monster, and he says that the Monster usually plays one of three roles.  See which one(s) fits your habit best.

The first role is probably the most obvious. Bungay Stanier calls it “the loudest and most obvious persona: Tell-It. Tell-It is here to convince you that you were hired to have the answer; if you don’t have the answer, you’ve failed in your job. Having the answer is the only real way for you to add value, and the only way you’ll be recognized as a success.” Sound familiar? 

I’ve written before about being an expert and how it can actually hinder your ability to solve problems. Once you’ve been declared the Expert (with a capital E), you’re expected to weigh in on every problem. Saying “I don’t know” or “You guys figure it out” sounds like a breach of contract; it’s also very, very hard to do. There’s a piece of all of us that wants to be the vice of authority in the room.

The second role your Advice Monster plays is Save-It. Bungay Stanier writes, “Save-It’s tactic is to take you aside and explain, earnestly, that if it wasn’t for you holding it all together, everything would fail. Your job is to be fully responsible for every person, every situation, and every outcome.” He adds helpfully that you can tell when this is the dominant persona because you’ll detect the “faint odor of burning martyr” in the room.  It’s really, really hard to quit your hero habit.

Finally, your Advice Monster will take on Control-It. Bungay Stanier says you’ll know when “a tone of gentle authority will assure you that the only way to succeed is to stay in control at all times. At. All. Times. It convinces you that everything is controllable, so long as you’re in charge. Don’t trust others. Don’t share power. Don’t cede control. If you let control slip, even just a little, disaster will befall us all.”

Control-It has remarkable grip strength; it can be almost impossible to pry its hands off a situation, problem, or project Control-It has latched onto.  And it seldom welcomes new people, new ideas, and certainly not new opinions. 

The problem with all three of these personas  – even when they’re sincere and well-meaning – is that they presume you’re better than the other people in the room. They don’t have your experience. They haven’t been here as long. Let’s face it; they’re just not as smart as you.

Oooooh… did that make you uncomfortable? Good.  Sit with it a while. See if it’s what you want to be feeling. See if it’s what you want to be projecting. See if it’s what you want to be teaching.

Bungay Stanier says we’re all guilty of this kind of thinking at least some of the time. And it takes a toll. “How exhausting for you. How disempowering for them. How, when we get to the bottom of it, inhuman it is to you both. When you’re more coach-like, you break this cycle. You unlock their potential; you don’t diminish it.”

In future posts, we’ll learn how to think and converse like a coach.

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