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The Invisible Culture of Advice

It is human to want to give advice to a colleague, friend, or loved one when they have a problem, but does it really help? For years journalists, therapists, and corporate coaches have been trained to stay neutral. Neutrality allows for the fact that we don’t know what a person will do with our advice, so why do so many of us still give it when unsolicited?

The word advice provides an opportunity for cultural growth since it is still not sufficient enough to serve our social needs. How many times have you received advice that you didn’t want to take? How many times have you been criticized for not doing things the way someone else thinks you should? How many times have all of us been on the giving and receiving end of it?

I propose we add a new word to the English language - “advuce”. It came to me during the Spring of 2021 when I went to a health institute to support the transition off of breast cancer-related medications (I’m fine, thanks to doctors, family, and friends). While at the institute I allowed myself to collapse in the struggle of the last few years.

The other attendees could see that I was struggling, so many of them gave me advice like: “forget about work”, “breathe”, “appreciate what you have”, “don’t think about it”, “do yoga”, “eat live foods”, “don’t eat sugar”, “do more…do less”, “eat more…eat less”. It seemed that each day I had a flood of advice, but rarely did it resonate.

Then it dawned on me. Advice is dangerous because it has too much of a risk of being about the person giving it than the person receiving it. Therefore, by taking the “I” out of advice and changing it to a “U”, the word itself becomes an opportunity for us to be more aware of one another’s needs.

According to Linguistic-Relativity, “the structure of a language affects a speaker’s worldview or cognition”. Therefore, just by adding a new word to a language, we have affected the culture. By learning a new word, we identify a sub-conscious human tendency to give ethnocentric recommendations. Advice is often harmful, and just the mere presence of advuce expands a culture’s potential to bridge the cultural divides that can often lead to conflict or misunderstanding.

I am often asked for a list of “dos and don’ts”. The first thing I put on a list of “dos and don’ts” is don’t use them. What is good for one isn’t good for another, but still, we continue to think we know what’s best for one another. It is inherently saying, “you aren’t as capable as I am of figuring this out.”

That is why coaching as a Global Leadership Skill is an essential tool in the toolbox. When leading across cultures, there is a constant discovery. Advice gets in the way of the exploration necessary to allow all people to thrive in cross-cultural interaction. Advice imposes a pause and reflection on whether or not what we are saying is in service of our self or the other.

So the next time someone approaches you for some help with a problem, maybe the decision isn’t what advice to give, but whether or not to give it at all.

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