Tame Your Advice Monster and Release Your Inner Coach

The advice monsters

I’m going to start by telling you a truth that you may be a little uncomfortable with… Your supportive and well-meaning advice might not be as useful, or even as welcome, as you think it is. Many of us pride ourselves on our ability to offer wonderful solutions and fixes to other people’s problems. We believe we can offer the perfect anecdote or story to support a decision in any given situation. But the truth is that often our personal experiences and advice are not the most effective ways to support someone who has come to you with a problem. In his book ‘Advice Trap: Be Humble, Stay Curious & Change the Way You Lead Forever’[i], Michael Bungay Steiner states that we all have ‘advice monsters’. Our advice monster is that urge we all have to give advice and share our opinions. Research shows that for some people that urge kicks in as quickly as 11 seconds into a conversation. And that once we have identified the ‘perfect’ piece of advice to share, we stop listening properly and simply wait for an opportunity to speak. But surely not all advice is bad? No, of course it isn’t. Sometimes advice is well-placed and really welcomed. But when we give unsolicited advice, it sends a message to the other person that you don’t think they can figure it out for themselves, and it cuts into their sense of empowerment and autonomy

The power of coaching

In my role as a leadership coach and Co-Director of Inclusive Futures CIC, I have the honour of engaging in coaching conversations with people from all different walks of life; from 16 year olds studying B-Techs to CEO’s and Directors. I experience first-hand the incredible impact of listening properly, holding back on advice giving, and staying curious. All the work we do at Inclusive Futures, with staff and students has a coaching philosophy at it’s core. As coaches, we do not give our story, we do not share our opinions, and we don’t give advice on how we or others have overcome obstacles or achieved outcomes. We wholeheartedly believe that our coachees are the experts on themselves and their situations, not us. They are not broken, and they do not need us to fix them or their situations. The individuals we work with are resourceful and already have all the answers they need. Our job is to facilitate them to find the answers that feel right, drawing on the knowledge, strength and experience that they already have. Research reviewed by TASO, along with wider studies have shown that coaching can enhance students’ problem-solving skills, coping skills, resilience, wellbeing, study skills and learning goals achievement[ii] which contributes to higher rates of engagement with higher education. Coaching within the workplace can also have a huge impact on employees. A survey by the International Coaching Federation found that 80% of people who receive coaching report increased self-confidence, and over 70% benefit from improved work performance, relationships, and more effective communication skills[iii].

What we have seen

Our own experience working with students from groups under-represented in higher education, as well as professionals across HE and beyond, mirrors the evidence mentioned above. By facilitating someone to find their own answers, we help to build their sense of self-efficacy. We strengthen their belief that they are well resourced. They find evidence that they have the skills, strengths and experience to find their own solutions. The feedback we receive is how much our coachees appreciate feeling listened to without judgement, and supported to make their own decisions. But if coaching is so great, then why don’t we see more of it? Increasingly, we are being asked to run workshops and training for parents, student ambassadors, and staff to help develop their coaching skills. The feedback we receive is always similar. Firstly, it’s harder than they expected to turn off those advice monsters and ask open questions. But more importantly, they can see the impact a coaching approach can have even with some small changes.

How to release your inner coach and tame your advice monster?

So whether you are interested in bringing more of a coaching approach to your work with students, how you manage your team, or even in your personal life, Here are a few tips that I hope will get you started: Acknowledge we all have an advice monster! Notice when and how yours is more likely to speak up, and see if you can catch it before it takes over your conversation. When you are in conversation with someone, listen to them. It sounds simple, but I challenge you to really listen. Remove distractions, and give them your full attention. Stay curious a little longer. Challenge yourself to ask a few more questions than you normally would before releasing your advice monster. Ask simple open-ended questions that begin with when, how, where, who etc… to open up conversations. Finally, notice what happens when you ask more questions. Is the person you’re talking to thinking more deeply and really connecting with the conversation? See what comes from holding space in this way. If you are interested in finding out any more about coaching, then please get in touch for a chat at jess@inclusivefutures.co.uk. Photo by Jamie Templeton [i] Bungay Steiner. M (2020), Advice Trap: Be Humble, Stay Curious & Change the Way You Lead Forever [ii] Campbell, M. A., & Gardner, S. (2005). A pilot study to assess the effects of life coaching with Year 12 students. In M. Cavanagh, A. Grant, & T. Kemp (Eds.), Evidence-based coaching (pp. 159-169). Brisbane: Australian Academic Press [iii] ICF, 2009, Annual Report
Scroll to Top