Why We Shouldn’t Be Giving Advice

Why We Shouldn’t Be Giving Advice

by elainesuess

The ability to communicate well impacts everything we do at work. Expertise in what I call Conversational Leadership extends even beyond work.

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” James Humes

A critical element of Conversational Leadership is whether you’re most often asking questions or giving advice.

Advice As Pain

While I don’t have the research reference to share with you, a friend who studies the brain recently shared with me that giving advice lights up the same area of the brain that pain does. Ouch!


I have seen and felt this. Have you?

Now that you know this, you might wish to take a different approach with your employees and colleagues.

So, let’s talk about giving advice and why people do it:

  • Giving advice seems efficient – faster to tell employees what to do (or do it ourselves!) than teach them 
  • Giving advice seems like a good way to share our knowledge with others
  • I’m the boss and I know how I want it done
  • I’m afraid that if I’m not giving advice, I will not be seen as a strong leader
  • I’ve been trained to take this route and I’m good at it (I’ve been practicing for years)
  • We think we’re helping others when we give them advice

Practice Makes A Good Inquirer

While leading a group of business owners recently, they practiced asking instead of advising. There were a lot of starts and stops in dialogue using clarifying questions, and it was clear how difficult the shift was for them…for all the reasons stated above.

The difference and positive impact for them as leaders however, was clear. Some voiced that they could see this new approach improving communication at home too.

The investment in time that it takes leaders to develop new language and conversational habits pays off in improved employee capacity and critical thinking skills. 

This is not to say that we shouldn’t share valued information and experiences with employees, especially when they are newer to their roles. We should.

Why Ask Rather Than Advise

There are many reasons for leaders to move away from advice-giving.

When leaders ask with intention and skill:

  • We recognize that a person with a problem is often the best person to solve it
  • Our brain releases oxytocin instead of cortisol, which helps with executive function and idea creation
  • We’re helping others to release oxytocin and connect their thoughts and ideas, which creates insights that help them plan
  • We demonstrate our belief that the person we’re talking with can come to his or her own conclusions as critical thinkers
  • We know that people are more likely to be engaged in any plan to which they had input or that they created
  • We know that people who come up with their own approaches internalize them and are more likely to act upon them

Moving Forward

When you’re ready to move from advice-giving to asking, a few tips that will help you master Conversational Leadership:

 >  When you ask, come from a place of curiosity, and your question will mirror your intention to learn more and build capacity instead of advising

>  Stay away from what I call “tellasking,” which sounds like: Don’t you want to (your advice included), Shouldn’t you (your advice included) etc., This is advice-giving masked as a question.

And finally, ask questions for which you have no answers. Then you’re sure to stay away from the advice quandary.


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