Five Reasons Advice Doesn’t Work and When It Might

I remember many years ago going out for a morning run around Central Park in New York City. It was a crisp, blue-sky day, I had a lot of energy, the run was going well. Then a tall, male runner came blasting past me and shouted, “Don’t run on your toes!”

I spent the rest of the run fuming. How dare he! He didn’t know my body or how I needed to move. (Turns out, toe running isn’t such a terrible thing.) What gave him the right?

And who asked for his advice?

My husband and I have a friend, a great, multi-talented guy, who works extremely hard. He’s helped us a lot. But his habits of coffee, cigarettes, and energy drinks didn’t seem very health-friendly, at least from our not-particularly-humble perspective. We debated whether we should say something.

We wondered again when we found out that he’d had a small heart attack last weekend.

Trouble is, unsolicited advice rarely works.

Five Reasons Advice Doesn’t Work

  1. It hasn’t been requested, When someone is not open or curious to receive new information, your great suggestions aren’t going to make a difference. What’s worse they can turn people defensive.
  2. We don’t fully understand the context. Lives are complex. Understanding context requires understanding:
    • someone else’s background and experiences;
    • the emotional context–how someone is feeling today (nothing worse than a fresh piece of advice on a bad hair day);
    • external variables affecting them such as family, finances, and commitments.
  3. You might be wrong. (It happens from time to time.) Advice often assumes you know more than they do. It’s so tempting to talk from a place of superior insight. What happened to humility?
  4. Advice aborts questions. Advice, too firmly given, keeps us from digging deeper into questions. Often, we need to ask “why?” before we ask (or advise) “how.”
  5. Advice rarely touches the heart–the real power center for change. The person you are talking to needs to feel the imperative of change in their bones. They need to be able to envision the change, hear the change, taste the change…and feel the pain of not changing, before they may be willing to act.

When you can give advice

In certain circumstances, you can give advice.

  • When someone sincerely asks for it and is open and receptive. (Or signs up for advice.)
  • When you can treat them as a peer who will consider whether your advice is right for them. You are offering advice, not prophecy!
  • When they plan to take action. (If they don’t, why bother?)
  • When the timing is right (Not when there’s a crisis, the soup’s about to boil over, or they’ve just listened to the State of the Union.)

Of course, there’s one more scenario in which you can offer advice.

  • When your husband really needs to make a change. (I couldn’t resist–although he tried to edit this out!)

Fortunately for our friend, his heart attack apparently hasn’t caused permanent damage, but It did give him all the advice he needed to make a change.

And I bet that advice will stick!

 

 

 

 

What will you stand for?

 

What do you stand for?

Isn’t it time to get a little bolder, to speak up for the truths you hold in your heart, challenging the inequities you see around you? You don’t need to be on the streets, or on the frontlines of the revolution to have your own potent message. The stand I’m referring to isn’t about regurgitating political positions or philosophical doctrines, but sharing the truth of your own embodied experience, the wisdom you have gained through living.

Speaking up doesn’t require a megaphone or even an audience. You can hold a subtle message in your heart and when the time comes speak out. Your voice may be gentle, or you may roar like a lion. There are many ways to take a stand.

I believe that standing for what you believe in is one of the keys to a long life.

If you want to see a beautiful example of standing for something, watch Oprah Winfrey’s speech to the 2018 Golden Globes. It’s getting a lot of press so you may have seen it. I could watch it again and again, just to soak in some of her prowess and power.

 

For those who study and teach presentation skills, as I do, Oprah’s remarks demonstrate what a great speech looks like. She starts with a story; acknowledges her audience; uses her powerful, resonate voice in varied ways; weaves emotion throughout; and moves us on an emotional arc that ends with a relevant and poignant story. She closes with a compelling call to action.

All of that represents fantastic technique. But the greatness of the speech came from how she shared her heart, rather than the technique she used. She won me with three special factors:

  • She owned who she was. There was no apology, no thinking small. She knows the power she wields. Oprah is Oprah–and she stood tall on that stage.
  • She embodied what she was saying. There wasn’t a gratuitous or abstract word in her presentation.You knew that she had lived or witnessed what she spoke about. She held the truths she knew in her heart, in her body, as well as in her head. Listening to her voice, you felt a credibility that extended way beyond her celebrityhood.
  • She took a stand and inspired us to do the same.

The issue of the hour (or the year) at Hollywood’s Golden Globes was #MeToo, a hashtag that became a movement, emerging from the brave testimonies of women who dared to reveal how they had been sexually maltreated over the years by men in power. Oprah spoke right to the issue and acknowledged the courage of women, in media and throughout the culture, who dared to speak out. She addressed the courage of celebrities and also of the laborers, the forgotten, and the poor, black women whose histories haven’t been publicized, but who have endured atrocities. She made it clear that she stood for social justice, the empowerment of women and the end of sexual misconduct.

Oprah is undoubtedly the most powerful woman in America. Unlike some of her male peers who rival her in wealth and influence, yet do not speak out, Unlike some of her male peers who rival her in wealth and influence, yet do not speak out, Oprah knows how to use her influence and fame to shed light on issues, to offer support to those who have been denied a voice, and to encourage us all to take action.

I hope many of us, women and men, will be inspired by Oprah to stand up for what matters most to us. This is key to staying vital–at any age. There’s so much that needs to be addressed in our culture; all of our voices are needed.

It’s time to let your words be heard. Take a stand on the issues you care about.

When it comes to changing the world, in your particular way, it’s time to say,“Me, too.”

When you’re fogged in, follow the markers

There are mornings, here in the Pacific Northwest, when the fog covers the fields in a sheet of gray, and I can only see a few feet ahead as I walk out to feed the horses,

Then there are mornings when a mental fog descends, and the path that seemed so clear the day before is nowhere to be found.

When I’m lost in the fog and can’t find the trail, I need markers placed a few feet ahead of me more than big goals or strategic objectives.

Traditional planning focuses on goals, objectives, and indicators–and these all have their place. But when I’m walking the trail of transformation in uncharted territory, I want signs that reassure me to, “Keep going.” I once meandered onto a goat path while hiking up a mountain and ended up completely lost as the sun was going down.Now, when I’m hiking, I keep my eyes peeled for little orange tapes wrapped around branches to reassure me that I’m on track.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because a mental fog can roll in without notice, I want to be prepared. One day, I’ll be on fire writing my book. The next, I’m ready to throw my hands up and cry, “Uncle.” When I can’t see more than ten feet ahead, I need a marker at nine feet. When I’m lost in a morning funk and finding writing a book too overwhelming, (yes, it is!), identifying one small step to take can be a lifesaver.

Maybe to find that step I’ll choose to sit quietly or have a brief chat with the muse, that compassionate voice I call upon in just these situations. She’s very good at coming up with three to five very specific, small, no-nonsense steps: “Read a little Elizabeth Gilbert to motivate you.” “Write 800 words even if you hate your words.” “Pick up your closet floor.” “Breathe.” When I follow her suggestions and take one or two steps, I will often find my groove and be on my way again.

I reserve long-range planning for clear, blue-sky days, with no fog interference. Then I can stand at my whiteboard and plot my best-guess trail map for my project over the next three to six months.

How markers can help

  • If you’re starting a business: What’s the one small, but necessary thing you could do right now to support your key direction for the week?
  • If you’re designing a course: What small portion of the design could you develop?
  • If you’re painting: What’s the smallest step or gesture you could take that would allow you to feel like you are advancing–as simple as selecting brushes or setting up your easel?
  • If you’re needing exercise: What’s the smallest thing you could do today to move forward on your program?

But when the fog comes in, I say that markers are what’s going to keep you on the trail.

 

 

Working from the vulnerable void

Brené Brown did the world a great service when she shared, from her research and experience, about the importance of being willing to be vulnerable. But just because her TEDx talk went wildly viral and has been applauded by millions around the planet doesn’t make it any easier to stand, exposed, before others.

I know, because I teach. Not the kind of stand-behind-a-podium-reading-notes-you-developed-years-ago teaching, but teaching where you know you have to always be a learner, that each group you teach will be different, and that what matters most is always their engagement, not your glorious words. Teaching, facilitating. and sharing stories are areas of my work where I challenge myself to stand in front of others in the vulnerable void, a place where I’m willing to let go and not know.

Where do you practice working from that place of vulnerability?

I wrote this on the eve of launching a new course. (Not surprisingly, it feels vulnerable to share it!)

 

Teaching

I love it I hate it

It is my audience, my stage

Where I come out to the world

It is my place to design

my playpen

my artbox

my excuse to spend hours reading

tied to my computer, mapping the timing,

dreaming of guests

I’m anxious to meet.

 

It is my prison

My despair

Where I have to wake at ungodly hours

to alarm clocks designed to crush the muse.

They call it training; I don’t like the word

I train my dog and horses.

Educare, to lead forward, is the verb I follow.

Not pretending that I see a world

you haven’t imagined.

 

It is where,

after eight hours of communion

evaluation forms are passed around.

On a ten point scale how did I do?

Tell me, did I change the life you have yet to live?

Because you don’t yet know

and neither do I

but let that be our direction.

 

Not just whether you liked my jokes

or the style of my blouse.

Did I impress you? (eight points)

Or really impress? (a ten)

Or did I impress upon you

an idea

the kernel of a dream

which if you follow it

will become so much more

so that in the future

when I am perhaps forgotten

You will find more of you

and say hello

to a part of you

creative and whole

that you have just remembered.

Freedom! Let’s get the job done…

My fifteen-year old granddaughter and her BFF cousin spent last week with us (such joy) and entertained us by singing most of the songs from the musical Hamilton. They did a wonderful rap, introducing us to the work of actor, director, and visionary, Lin-Manuel Miranda. I’m smitten (I know I’m terribly late to the party, but out here on America’s West Coast we’re thousands of miles from Broadway!). For anyone who wants to see a great example of theatrical storytelling: watch Miranda’s rap for Obama’s 2009 Poetry slam at the White House (and long for better days!). I like it so much that I’ve watched it without sound just to enjoy the energy and charisma Miranda brings to his performance, even without his terrific lyrics.

The other reason I’m smitten is because Miranda is using his fame to focus attention on immigration by supporting the Immigrants: We Get the Job Done Coalition with some personal, Hamilton-inspired fundraising. He just released a video that riffs on the line from Hamilton: “Immigrants (We Get The Job Done).” The rappers K’naan, Residente, Riz MC and Snow Tha Product combine forces to show how vital immigrants and refugees are to America, addressing both their contributions and sufferings. With gritty clips of dark subway cars filled with the frightened faces of immigrants going to yet another of their many jobs, dirt-smeared workers doing work no one else wants to do, and hostile police raids, it’s not a light video to watch. But it’s worth seeing and I’ve seen it now multiple times.

I pray that Miranda does for immigration what his play Hamilton did for American history: get people interested.

As we celebrate Independence Day in the United States, we can think of George Washington’s response in Hamilton to the question “Does this mean freedom?” with two apt words: “Not yet.”

Freedom. Not to be taken for granted. Let’s get the job done.

When a Story Becomes a Game-Changer

If you ever needed proof of the power of story to set a direction for an industry, take a look at The One Device: The secret history of the iPhone by Brian Merchant, just released this week. (You can read a long excerpt here.)

Creating a story about technology and the future is risky. But it’s all the more risky when it means taking on a titan like Steve Jobs. Jobs had a narrative driving his strategy at Apple that didn’t include creating a phone or dealing with telephone carriers. “We’re not very good going through orifices to get to the end users,” he said referring to phone companies. He stubbornly refused to expand on the success of the iPod by building an iPod-like phone.

As competitors began building phones that looked increasingly like the iPod, members of the executive team at Apple argued for the merits of building an Apple phone. Jobs didn’t see it.

Yet in the top ranks of Apple were engineers and executives with the courage to go toe-to-toe with Jobs and argue for an alternate story about what was about to happen in the market and the industry. They backed their arguments with data, designs, prototypes, chutzpah and a big vision of the future. They created a more compelling narrative.

Jobs finally changed his story and launched the top secret project (code name “Purple”) that produced the iPhone. What ensued had all the passion, drive, jealousy, cunning, secrecy, rivalries and obsessions of a Puccini opera. The project would make careers and break marriages.

Fun reading for those of us interested in the origin stories behind companies and game-changer products. I’m looking forward to reading the whole book. But today’s takeaway is simply this:

Big stories shape what people can imagine and what gets done.

What stories are you shaping as you think about the future?

Of course, not all stories about the future get it right. For a little fun: here are some failed predictions about technology:*

1876: “The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not.  We have plenty of messenger boys.” — William Preece, British Post Office.

1876: “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.” — William Orton, President of Western Union.

1966: “Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop.” — Time Magazine.

1995: “I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.” — Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com.

2007: “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” — Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO.

*Source: Forbes Worst tech predictions of all time by Robert J. Szczerba.

 

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