Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

Well Intentioned Advice   

I’ve been in the advice business for a very long time. As a kid, other kids sought my help about how to get a girl’s attention, or what to do about this or that boy, or how to talk to mom about dad’s drinking. Those early beginnings led to my life’s work, the kind I loved and found incredibly rewarding. It was never a slog. My work gave me so much more than I believe I ever gave.

A few times lately, I’ve been on the receiving end of advice. I don’t mind this in the slightest. In fact, I usually solicit it because as a leader I know I don’t have all the answers. The more heads involved in problem solving, the better. Securing advice (both solicited and unsolicited) has made me pause, though, to think about how I give it and just as importantly, what gets my back up when someone, well intentioned as they may be, alienates me to such a point that even if the advice were sound, I wouldn’t take it (cranky, stubborn bag that I am).

So here in a nutshell is how I hope I give advice, and by extension, the approach that works best on me when receiving it.

Before I utter too many words (if you know me, you know how difficult that is for me), I first listen. As Stephen Covey once said, “first seek to understand, then to be understood.” I want to get to know the person or organization with whom I’m dealing. What do they value? What are they proud of? What do they see as their successes? What have they tried with limited success? You get to know a great deal about someone when they talk and you listen. It’s the only real way to build trust. You can’t be heard or followed without this.

When I’m giving advice, I realize I’m in a bit of a power position. This doesn’t mean I have all the answers. I don’t. All I’m doing is providing a fresh set of eyes, some perspective that might get lost when a person or organization is too close to the fire. I’ve discovered that the person or organization I’m advising usually knows where they want to go, how to get there. If I’m doing my job correctly, I’m simply facilitating and opening doors to those answers they’ve already considered.  

Being louder, more aggressive, flaying my arms or stamping my feet has never worked for me as a way to get a point across. And who would listen to anything I or anyone else would have to say in that state. What works for me and on me, is quiet, assured command. I may jokingly refer to myself as pushy, and maybe some (my husband) might argue that I am, but I can tell you (and my husband) that I prefer that you come along to my viewpoint because you want to, not because I’ve brow beaten you into doing it.

Typically, when someone tries this louder, larger than life approach on me, I quietly listen. Maybe I come across as a wimp. Doesn’t matter what they think. I’m not interested. They may be forgiven for believing my silence means they’ve won me over. They haven’t. I give people a lot of room to maneuverer (for all sorts of reasons I won’t go into now), but close off very quickly to an aggressive style. 

I try not to give any advice until I understand the values of the person or organization I’m working with. This goes back to my first point about listening. How useful is advice that goes against what the other person holds sacred?

In the same vein I don’t listen to advice that blatantly or subtly goes against who I am as a person, a leader, what I believe in, and what I value. Who would? Again, I have to quote Stephen Covey. “There are three constants in life: change, choice and principles.” I am nothing without my principles. Who is?

As you know if you’ve read my blog, I run a small writers festival in Whistler. It has steadily grown. It’s an undertaking of love and a bit of insanity. I’ve been advised many times to pursue the big box booksellers for sponsorship and support. But we have an independent bookstore right here in Whistler. That little bookstore has supported our literary pursuits since day one, over thirteen years. Why would I get anyone else involved? I don’t care how much money or support a big box bookstore could provide our festival. It would never be enough. I feel the same way about our hotel partner. I am not interested in squeezing them for free room nights for our festival guest authors. The hotel has a business to run. We have an event to put on. Together we put our best foot forward to the world. We succeed together.

With this example, I’ve gone off on a tangent. I’m pretty passionate about values and conduct, which anyone could see if they talked to me for a couple of minutes. It’s funny though, how many don’t get that.

My point is: if you want someone to take your advice, listen and understand first. Guide from a position of knowledge and respect. I hope this is how I behave when someone asks me for advice, and I’m absolutely positive this is how I best respond to the advice provided by the well intentioned.

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