Teach, Don’t Preach
There are many times in business when someone will turn to you for a bit of advice—and you may freely give it. After all, it’s natural to want to support others and normal to like the fact that someone values your opinion enough to ask for it. However, if you really want to make a difference in that person’s life, hold off on dishing out the advice and find opportunities to share personal experiences instead. Examples or stories rooted in your personal experiences have a powerful capacity for building interest, connection, relationships and greater understanding. As such, they become teaching moments, not preaching moments. Choose this approach over rattling off some canned advice and your opinion will be more likely to inspire, motivate and genuinely help that person in need.
Here are three situations in which you might consider sharing personal experiences in response to a request for your advice:
When someone has a problem with a boss. Over the years, I’ve had many people ask me for advice about how to handle their boss. Whether it was in regard to the disengaged boss, the micromanaging boss or any other type of boss, they’ve shared their worries and wondered what I would suggest they do. When asked, I’ve always given an answer that’s based in my personal experience and seems to address issue no matter what kind of boss it is. For example, one individual came to me about his “Problem” boss. I explained that I had tough bosses over the years and how I came to realize I ultimately had control over the situation. How? I had two choices: 1) stay in the job and change my attitude, realizing that nothing (including that boss being in his job) is forever; or 2) leave that boss and find a better one. In one specific situation, I realized the job and company were more important to me than the boss, so I decided to stick it out, own my decision, and improve my attitude. Sure enough, six months later, the boss left and a great boss was hired in his place.
When someone has a problem with the business. As a leader, you’re going to have people come to you to discuss issues with their organization. They might be about internal concerns, such as “How do I eliminate bickering among my team?” or external challenges, such as “How do I get my customer service representatives to solve more problems on their own?” When you have other business leaders coming to you for such advice, I’ve found it’s useful to refrain from telling anyone what to do. Instead, share your experience with how you’ve improved team relations in your organization or found ways to demand more solutions from your frontline employees. Such case examples always help others to feel less alone in their concerns while indirectly suggesting solutions, options, or opportunities. In fact, this approach is so powerful that MAP’s partner, Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) uses it in its member forum. Whenever members pose questions, forum rules stipulate that only experiences (not advice) are welcome. This organization recognizes that sharing real experiences is more powerful and effective than giving advice.
When you recognize a clear opportunity for personal development. There have been occasions when someone has come to me with a problem, whether it was with a boss, some aspect of his/her leadership, or something more personal in nature. Sometimes, I’ve felt that this “problem” was directly attributable to this individual’s weakness, shortcomings, or bad habits. But if I had just said something like, “Stop talking so much in meetings” or “Get some self confidence and stand up to your mother,” my efforts to help would have likely been in vain. What I’ve found is providing constructive feedback and relaying solutions through stories of personal experiences does far more to benefit someone’s growth and development, particularly when it comes to getting people to understand their weaknesses and empowering them to change.
How have you used stories of personal experiences when you’ve been asked for advice?