I have a friend who likes to give advice. No, actually, he loves to give advice. If we go to a restaurant that he’s been to before, he’ll give advice on what to order. Except that he doesn’t make it optional. “You have to get that Tuscan sandwich!”
I do? Is that an order or advice? I know he’s making a suggestion. I know he thinks I’ll enjoy the sandwich. But if I’m not in the mood for what’s on it, I don’t want to order it. I also don’t like to be told what to do. I also didn’t ask for advice. So there are three reasons for me not to get the sandwich.
The question of an order or advice in mentoring
I’ve mentored people in the past. I’ve made suggestions to my mentees about career choices and personal issues. I have always tried to make it clear to them that the decision is entirely theirs. My feelings won’t be hurt if they don’t follow my advice. I’m only telling them what I would do in that situation.
In most cases, if they don’t follow my advice, the worst thing that could happen is that it doesn’t work and they learn from it. It’s a lesson they can learn for the future. They can even give advice to someone else about it down the road.
If they follow my advice and it fails, we can both learn from it. But they shouldn’t come back and blame me for the failure. I made it clear that it was their decision.
I also suggest that my mentees talk to other people. Mentoring should not be monogamous. If they talk to multiple people and get different advice, they may realize that it’s a difficult decision and may think harder about it.
Related post: 4 Ways to Offer Unsolicited Mentoring
Why I don’t make it an order
I try very hard not to make my advice to my mentees sound like an order. I don’t want to sound like my friend and manipulate them into something they don’t want to do. I’ve also had the experience of having a superior give advice. Many superiors have grown so accustomed to giving orders, they confuse their advice with the orders they give every day.
I’ve had managers give advice in the form of, “Here’s what you need to do. Go talk to this guy and arrange this. Then go to this customer and tell him that.” They put it in such a form that makes it hard to disagree with or to disobey.
For more information, check out How to Mentor for Maximum Benefit
Regardless of the person I’m talking to, I assume the role of a subordinate whose boss has just asked for advice. I put it in the form of, “Here’s a suggestion…” I pose one way of approaching the problem. I provide pros and cons. I may even give two or three options with the pros and cons of each. I may even offer what I would do. But I make it very clear that this is their decision. I don’t want them to be confused whether it is an order or advice.
Related post: When Someone Needs Un-Mentoring
Have you ever been given advice that sounded more like an order?
I welcome your questions and comments.