The Shadow Side of Advice

In Coaching Circles, we stay away from giving advice because it’s the antithesis of development.

When a group first gets together, we do make some room for it because it serves as a useful point of departure for developing a coaching posture. The advice reflex is so strong and culturally ingrained that no useful interaction would occur without resorting to this form of support. It’s readily accessible and especially rewarding when your bit of advice seems helpful to the person on the receiving end.

But is it really? Even when a person is really stuck and doesn’t know what to do, are we really helping by feeding them an answer? And by that I mean “our” answer—one that has worked for us at a particular place and time with endless other variables at play.

My assessment after over 20 years of leading Coaching Circles is that advice rarely hits the mark. Rather, it puts people on the defensive, generates explanations of what they are already doing and underneath, triggers all kinds of feelings like shame, disappointment and even anger. Advice is a shortcut and at the best of times provides quick relief. It doesn’t build capacity: the capacity to gain understanding or perspective, or to explore the kinds of possibilities that relate to the unique personality dynamics and circumstances at hand. Inquiring into these take time, and time is what we have in Coaching Circles.

In our process, we take time to really understand what is going on for the person we are coaching, evoking reflection, curiosity, and discovery, which then provide a path to action. Without a shift in seeing their own reality, no new possibility can arise. As a group, we build the skills to help others shift through our questions, distinctions and collaborative inquiry. Over time, everyone becomes a better coach, not only to support the development of those in the coaching circle, but those they influence in their organization and communities.

Learn more about Facilitating Coaching Circles.

Charles is NVW senior faculty emeritus, and the founder of Coaching Circles® in Montreal.


Photo by Sunrise King on Unsplash

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