You probably get a lot of advice, don’t you? You read help-me blogs and help-you columns, self-help books – the list of resources goes on and on. It’s a big business, helping people get to their highest potential, but how much of it is a crock? How much of that crock is based on people giving the advice, and how much of it is those of us receiving advice?
We give ourselves plenty of room for improvement. We learn from our mistakes. But how willing are we to turn our own advice creation into new behaviour?
This happens all the time in any kind of support industry. When was the last time you walked into a store, or called a support phone number, only to have the tech, salesman, or support person on the other end make sweeping assumptions about what you’ve tried to solve your problem, and how your approach to them indicates your level of knowledge?
Pretty grim, isn’t it? Are you doing the same thing to those you advise, or are you more willing to listen, dissect the problem and their attempted solutions, and find a better path for them – based on the person themselves?
This is also a big problem for anyone looking to become a consultant to confront. The habit, when you become skilled, is to rely on your own skills without considering the knowledge of others. How many of you, if you do consulting, failed the first few runs because you went in with a plan, laid it out, and demanded that it be the One True Path for the Lucky Few who supplicated for your help? Probably more than would like to admit it. Even if you’ve been an engineer for decades, if you’ve only been a consultant for a month, it’s easy to make a whole new planet’s worth of mistakes.
How can we help ourselves avoid this hinder-by-helping situation?
It helps when you get better at asking questions. I don’t mean just asking more, but asking higher quality questions. Instead of asking if someone wants a particular product or service, ask what their aims are first. Instead of asking if they know how to turn the computer on, ask what they’ve done so far to fix the problem. Procedural questions are always of larger value in troubleshooting (even in conversation) than closed-ended, yes or no queries.
You’re a smart person. Lots of other people are smart too, even the people who come to you for help – especially those who come to you for help, because they understand the value you can add to their lives and tasks. Don’t sabotage that innate mutual respect by tearing into them without coming to an understanding of what they actually need from you first.
Photo by taylorpad212.