Tommy Heinsohn, the former coach of the Boston Celtics, had a temper. At first, his players would react to his fits of rage and readily comply. Over time, however, they stopped listening, ceased reacting, and eventually ignored him. That was when he lost his ability to give advice.

While Heinsohn’s style of giving advice was far more autocratic than reciprocal, it did not even come close to endearing players to him.

In their landmark study on the art of giving and receiving advice, David Gavin and Joshua Margolis of the Harvard Business School take the position that the art of giving advice is reciprocal; a two way, versus a one way, street. They go on to expand that position by indicating that it can be learned. According to the authors, “advice is central to effective leadership and decision making, and it requires emotional intelligence, self-awareness, restraint, diplomacy, and patience on both sides”. There are managers, however, like Tommy Heinsohn, who see some of those qualities as unnecessary. Gavin and Margolis suggest that they can be learned by most everyone and applied with complete success, if the managers go about it the right way.

They identify the challenges that must be overcome in order to, not only give advice, but to receive it, as well. Some of the challenges they discuss include “thinking one already has the answers, defining the problem poorly, overstepping boundaries,… well as offering practical guidelines for getting past them.”

Fundamental, however, to the entire approach relates to the giver of advice and the receiver of advice. They need to have established the following five stages of giving and receiving advice:

Finding the right fit

If you are the one being asked to give advice, are you the right person? Is your background in alignment with what is being asked of you and can you spend the required amount of time needed to give them good advice? If you are asking for advice, do you value the person’s judgment? Can they keep a confidence? Are you willing to listen to what they have to say?

Developing a shared understanding

Striking the common ground of the relationship is also important. If you are seeking advice, be respectful of the advisor’s time. Do not get into too much detail, if it is not necessary. Your primary goal is to communicate the problem or difficulty you are needing to resolve. If you don’t convey it clearly, the advice you receive could be wrong. On the other hand, as an advisor, you need to be able to grasp the problem as quickly as you can in order to be efficient in handling the situation. If an advisee comes to you with a predetermined course of action in mind, you will not be offering advice, you are being asked to affirm their position. There is a difference.

Crafting alternatives

The more diverse the alternatives you develop, the more effective a solution can be developed. If the advisor and advisee are able to work together, a successful decision can be reached more easily. 

Converging on a decision

As you begin to identify a solution, try to avoid the “easy way out”. Be certain the best alternative is indeed the best alternative among those you have identified. If there is no clear solution, consider seeking an outside opinion from someone who might be well versed on the subject.

Putting advice into action

Once a sound decision is reached, the key issue becomes that of implementation. “As a seeker, you’ll need to act on the advice you’ve received and make real-time adjustments… should be a cycle of guidance, action, learning, and further guidance— not a fixed path forward”, according to the authors.

The stages outlined provide a “collaborative way of understanding problems and crafting promising paths forward” which almost always results in the continuation of a discussion and the building of an on-going relationship. If you are fortunate enough to be effective when you give advice, it will result in more and more people seeking your advice and wisdom. Truly, a just reward if ever there was one. The added beauty behind the giving of advice is the educational process that allows  the giver to also receive information that will allow them to continue dispensing advice while learning more in the process, potentially resulting in a synergistic effect from both parties in the transaction. All of these issues can certainly be applied to the continued growth of your business.

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