Note: I’m going to use the term ‘learner’ throughout this article rather than the more traditional ‘coachee’. I’m not a fan of that term, because it implies being a passive recipient, which is emphatically not what’s going on in the coaching process.
Let me start by saying that there are some situations where it’s appropriate, and even better, for the coach to give advice to their learner: namely, where the coach has more knowledge and experience than the learner, and it’s in a context where there’s a well-established and proven procedure to follow.
Examples would be sports coaching, and some business activities like staying motivated while making sales calls. Although there are a lot of things that could happen in these contexts, it’s still a narrow range compared to the complexities of management, or relationships.
In ‘directive’ coaching like this, there’s an element of training. The coach is imparting information and tips that the learner didn’t know. As the learner becomes more experienced, they can make better decisions for themselves, and perhaps coaching can move more into a ‘non-directive’ approach.
For more complex situations, and definitely for leadership, a non-directive approach is definitely better – and that means not giving advice.
Here are 3 reasons why:
1. It’s not about you and your ‘Fixing Reflex’
The point of coaching is that the learner gets results, not that the coach feels better.
We all (apart from sociopaths) feel an urge to help people with their problems by suggesting solutions (anecdotally men do this more than women, but if there’s research I haven’t looked into it).
In the ‘Motivational Interviewing’ approach, this urge is known as the ‘Fixing Reflex’ (previously – and less usefully, in terms of the name giving you a clue as to what it’s about – known as the ‘Righting Reflex’).
Giving in to this urge might make us feel better, but it’s probably not the best thing for our learners.
2. While you’re thinking about what advice to give, you’re not listening to the learner.
You can’t listen fully and think about what you’re going to say at the same time. This means you’ll miss some items of information, perhaps crucial ones.
Also, consciously or unconsciously, the learner will notice that you’re not always giving 100% of your attention, which will impact the rapport between you.
3. Any advice you give is based on incomplete information
Even if you were to fully hear and understand everything the learner has said, you still wouldn’t have the whole picture. Why? Because inevitably, they can’t put everything into words. There will be parts of their experience that they’re not consciously aware of but still impact their perception of their situation. There will also be information that they leave out because they assume it goes without saying – but if you don’t have all of their knowledge (you don’t) or even if your belief system differs from theirs in some ways (it does), you will have to fill in the ‘gaps’ with information from your own ‘map of the world’, which may well not fit with their experience.
Consequently, any advice you give will be based on your perception of their situation, which inevitably contains some guesswork. It might fit their real situation – or it might not.
What do you think? What have I missed? Let us know in the comments below.
Next time: 4 more reasons why giving advice in a coaching session isn’t a great idea