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  • Toby Sinclair

The Advice Trap Summary by Michael Bungay-Stanier

Updated: Aug 10, 2021

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⭐ Toby's Rating: 6/10 - Recommended For: Leaders

This book is NOT about turning you into a coach. It's about making you a leader, a manager, a human who’s more coach-like. That means building the simple but difficult habit of taming your Advice Monster so you can stay curious a little longer, and rush to action and advice-giving a little more slowly.

When you’re more coach-like, research and experience tell us there are two clear outcomes:

  1. You enable stronger humans.

  2. You enable stronger performance.

The Advice Trap gives you the tools to make curiosity an everyday leadership behaviour. And will convince you exactly why saying less and asking more matters.

- Michael Bungay Stanier

3 Big Ideas 💡

Learn how to tame your Advice Monster:

  1. Giving advice can be helpful for simple situations where there is one obvious answer. In contrast, giving advice can be harmful in complex situations. When there is no one right answer it's better to tap into the collective knowledge of the group. Many people situations are complex, not simple. As such advice-giving is not always suitable.

  2. Developing coaching skills such as asking questions is a good antidote to giving advice. Once you learn to ask questions, it gives you alternatives. The Advice Trap builds upon ideas in The Coaching Habit.

  3. Advice is not always bad. In simple situations, it's often the most effective response. When you give advice, at least do it well. Michael shares four ways you can improve your ability to give advice.

2 Best Quotes from The Advice Trap 💬

You cannot get rid of your desire to give advice. You can only tame it.
You become a great coach by being willing to be coached.

Tobys Top Takeaway

Your advice is not as good as you think it is.

A harsh truth shared by Michael Bungay-Stanier in The Advice Trap. This is the follow up to his bestseller The Coaching Habit.

The biggest takeaway was the three beliefs that drive people to give advice:

  • You must have the answer!

  • You must be responsible for it all!

  • You must stay in control!

I resonated with all of these. In particular, people often seek out my expertise as a thought leader. This means I have a strong urge to give people the answer. I continue to work hard on building awareness for when to tell vs ask.

Michael shares that advice isn't always bad. For simple situations, it can be helpful. However many situations in the workplace are far from simple. This is why situational awareness is so key. It enables you to make better decisions on how to respond in a given scenario. Cynefin is a great sensemaking framework to help you determine what's simple or complex.

If you haven't read The Coaching Habit, start there. The Advice Trap is a good follow up. Perfect for practising coaches who want to go deeper.


Big Ideas Expanded 💡

A longer summary of The Advice Trap:

The Problem With Advice

You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.

Naguib Mahfouz

Two reasons why your Advice doesn’t work:

  1. You solve the wrong problem

  2. You’re proposing a mediocre solution

Impact of Advice:

  1. It demotivates the advice-receivers

  2. It overwhelms the advice-givers

  3. It compromises team effectiveness

  4. It limits organizational change

Easy Change vs. Hard Change

  • Easy Change: you can see the problem and figure out the solution. It’s like downloading a new app on your phone. Advice works well.

  • Hard Change: easy solutions don’t work. There is no one solution. It's like moving to a new city. Advice is most likely not effective.

Advice Trap Behaviours

The leaders of the future will know how to ask.

Peter Drucker

The beliefs that lead you to give advice.

  • You must have the answer! If you don’t Tell-It, nothing will get solved and we’ll fail.

  • You must be responsible for it all! If you don’t Save-It and rescue everyone and everything, we’ll fail.

  • You must stay in control! If you don’t Control-It and manage it all, we’ll fail.

Core to all three is the belief that you are more competent than the other person.

You cannot get rid of your desire to give advice. You can only tame it. The first step to taming it is by becoming more aware.

When you rush to advise, these are common behaviours:

  • I stop listening to what’s being said as soon as the idea/solutions/suggestion shows up in my head.

  • I blurt out my idea pretty much as soon as I think of it.

  • I give them the solution that I know is best for them.

  • I take on the responsibility for solving the problem, even when it’s not my problem.

  • I often don’t ask them what they think the answer/solution is.

  • I fill any awkward silences.

  • I take the lead from the start of a meeting or conversation, and I wrap things up at the end.

  • I get anxious when I’m not sure where the conversation is going.

  • I sort out the situation any time I feel things are going a little off the rails.

Noticing when you do these behaviours can help you start to change.

People only change when they see the benefit. Giving advice is often rewarded so those rewards need to be replaced.

Benefits of breaking the advice habit:

  • I “add value” by empowering others, rather than by offering up advice.

  • I don’t always have to have the answer.

  • I can rely on others to contribute.

  • I still share my advice and wisdom, but I do it deliberately and selectively rather than reactively.

  • I don’t need to be responsible for everyone else’s lives. They’re adults and they can be responsible for their own choices.

  • I can support people by supporting them in making choices rather than making choices for them.

  • I can trade control for empowerment and engagement.

  • I can teach people to drive, rather than doing all the driving myself. I can take a back seat.

  • I can let in the unknown, often a source of competitive advantage and innovation.

The Antidote To Advice Is Coaching

There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.

Susan Cain

The Advice Trap covers some of the same ground as The Coaching Habit. Rather than share the same insights, I'd recommend reading the summary here.

Coaching focuses on the process, not the outcomes. The outcomes can be great, of course, but we focus on what we can control, which is our behaviour.

The definition of coaching doesn’t say “never give advice” or “only ask questions.” That would be deeply impractical. Rather, it implies that advice-giving has its place in your life, and that advice-giving is usually an overdeveloped muscle. What you’re trying to do is train an underdeveloped muscle: curiosity.

Eight ways to ask a question well

  1. Ask one question at a time.

  2. Cut the intro and ask the question.

  3. Should you ask a rhetorical question?

  4. Stick to questions starting with “What.”

  5. Get comfortable with silence.

  6. Actually, listen to the answer.

  7. Acknowledge the answers you get.

How To Be Coached

You become a great coach by being willing to be coached.

Three ways you can become a better coachee:

  1. Confess. Start by owning the insight that you’re going to be a little slippery when you’re being coached. It’s not personal.

  2. Prepare to be uncomfortable. When you step into your power and assume the responsibility of making choices, two emotions show up: anxiety, because you’re worried about whether you’ve made the right choice; and guilt because you’re saying no to something to which you could have said yes.

  3. Check-in with yourself at the start of the coaching session: How active and engaged do you plan to be? How much risk do you intend to take? How willing will you be to show the mess? How vulnerable do you intend to be? How committed are you to the best future version of yourself?

Giving Good Advice, When You Need To

If you are going to give advice, do it well. It’s not all coaching, all the time.

Here are four strategies for giving good advice in the right way at the right time.

  1. Start by knowing the right moments to give advice.

  2. Learn to tone down the assuredness in the way you present your idea.

  3. Do it boldly. Label it, if that’s useful: “Let me give you my best advice.” Be fast, clear, bold. Make sure they know that you’ve given them your advice.

  4. Check how your advice has landed. Did it help? Did it solve the problem?


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