Avoid the Velcro effect: Help employees find the answer themselves

As an executive coach, I often hear my clients say how difficult it is to not give advice to the employee who walks in the door anxious and acting as though they do not know what to do. I explain to them:

“When you give advice you are experiencing the Velcro effect. Their anxiety and self-doubt is attaching to some outcome you need the employee to have for you to believe everything will be okay. It’s like two pieces of Velcro attaching to each other. To empower him, you need to detach from your own anxiety and ask him clarifying questions instead of trying to fix it for him.”
On the surface, I hear reasons for advice-giving when this coaching opportunity arises, such as:

  • “That’s my job – to help her!”
  • “I don’t want her to fail!”
  • “I care about her!”

Advice-giving comes from a much deeper need to control the outcome, or as John Grey would say in his book, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,” our need to “fix” the problem, versus just being with it so the person can hear himself and figure it out on his own. While Grey states, “advice-giving is more of a male trait than female tendency,” I would disagree. It seems men and women alike have difficulty not giving advice when they perceive they are in the position of authority, responsibility, or a guidance role.
Recently, I couldn’t have had more empathy regarding the temptation to give advice than in the last few weeks when my daughter, Alex Wehrley, prepared for her hosting position at the Country Music Awards. This was a big break for her TV career, to be interviewing the biggest country stars, live with Kelly Pickler backstage on the red carpet. When it came time for her to choose what dress she would wear on the CMA red carpet and how she would wear her hair, her self-doubt made her reach out to me and ask what I liked best.
Most people would think this was a simple question deserving of a simple answer. While I had a clear favorite, like any good manager or coach (or mother caring about the outcome), I restrained from giving her my opinion and taking control. Instead, I empowered her by asking her a few good clarity questions, such as:

  • What are you trying to achieve?
  • Which choices get you there?
  • What is your gut telling you to do?
  • What decision do you feel best about?

Letting go of your own opinion and resisting the temptation to be the rescuer is difficult. To help let go of advice-giving and ask clarity questions instead, remind yourself: Good questions bring clarity and confidence to the person asking. Clarity and confidence bring great results.
Here are four steps to let go of control and ask clear questions instead of advice-giving:

  1. Remind yourself: This isn’t about you. It’s about making him empowered and confident. Remind yourself that clarity and confidence bring great results. That is what he really wants, so help him get that clarity and confidence he needs by asking good clarifying questions.
  2. Get unstuck by naming the fear that makes you want to “fix” her situation with your solution. Are you concerned about safety? Security? Love? Belonging? Recognition? Or her having an opportunity to be and express her best self? Naming the fear you have frees you from unconsciously jumping in to fix the situation.
  3. When a person asks you what YOU would do, instead of answering him, ask him two clarifying questions: “What is your objective? What is your gut telling you to do?”
  4. Affirm her decision. Even if it is different than what you would’ve chosen, affirm her by saying, “Good choice!”

Allowing others to be the authors of their own destinies will surely bring desired results because you are empowering them with clarity and confidence.
Is the Velcro effect just a male tendency to “fix” things or is it a tendency we all share? Looking back at all my experiences, I cannot say there is a mother I know who hasn’t continually fought the temptation to give her children, and grown children, advice throughout their lives. Perhaps this tendency in the workplace is just a bad habit managers learned from the unconscious and fearful mothers who raised them. Whether it is or not, I do think we all agree that the person who can take a deep breath and remind us of our goals, and the need to trust our gut, is the person or coach we want to be around when we are doubting ourselves.
Challenge: Who tends to come to you for advice? How will you show up differently to coach them into clarity, confidence and empowerment?
Susan K. Wehrley has been a strategic planning consultant and business coach for 25 years as owner of Susan K. Wehrley & Associates Inc. (www.solutionsbysusan.com). She developed a division called BIZremedies in 2009 (www.BIZremedies.com), which offers an Employee Engagement Hub tool and a community for like-minded business professionals to share best practices. She can be reached at (414) 581-0449 or susan@solutionsbysusan.com.

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Susan K. Wehrley is an executive coach and business consultant that aligns executives and businesses to their vision, values and goals. She is also a regular contributor to Forbes. You can email Susan at Susan@BIZremedies.com, (262) 696-6856 or visit her website www.BIZremedies.com for more details.

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