I am currently studying strategic consultancy, and my program focusses a lot on advising skills. However, I feel like all TISEM students will find themselves in an advising role at some point in their career, be it to advise their boss, a client or just another colleague. That’s why I want to emphasize on the fact that being an advisor can be quite a difficult task. For example, people might ask things of you that you don’t have the answer to, you have to advice someone that thinks they don’t need your advice, or you give an advice that doesn’t fulfill the expectations.
In this article I will set-out some guidelines that do not have to be followed, since everyone has their own style of advising, but they might be helpful or prepare you for situations that you will find yourself in in your future career.
The first thing you have to keep in mind when you are advising someone is your credibility. People have to believe that you are a good source. But how do you do this? Well there are a lot of factors that influence your credibility as an advisor. For example: your expertise, previous successes, use of words, acquaintance with the one you are advising and even your age are factors that can influence your credibility. So what can you do to boost credibility? The answer is not so simple, since for one person you will be a credible source and for the other you are not. Thus credibility is not one constant factor that you can use constantly. You have to build it up every single time and for every single person until you have some sort of reputation. However, some situations might harm your credibility more than you’d like and that is why I wrote this article about some situations that you are probably going to face one day, that you want to be prepared for.
What if the one you are advising doesn’t want your advice?
We all know that some people do not want our advice, and if you notice that this is the case you are often better off not advising someone at all. In our private lives this is a choice we can make for ourselves. However, in your working life you might not always have this choice, and the one you are advising might not either. For example when your boss tells you that you are his best employee and he wants you to teach your co-workers to do the same things you are doing, or when a client asks for advice, but puts forward a contact person that doesn’t believe or isn’t interested in your capabilities to help.
These situations occur very often in business. I’ve had this happen to me, where I had a meeting with someone of the municipality that was ordered by the Major to answer my questions. It was quite an awkward meeting since I noticed that he didn’t want to be there and I didn’t know what to do with it. Psychology experts believe that we just need to give advice when requested, but since the person you are talking to has not requested your advice, you might start building your case by making clear why your advice was requested by their colleague or superior. By doing so they might already be more inclined to listen to what you have to say. Also, you should try building up a relationship first. Make the other person feel comfortable and only ask questions. Let them talk way more than you do, about 80/20 or even 90/10. This way you can let the other become more open to talk before they receive your advice, and the advice will become more in line with the problems they are actually coping with. This might safe your credibility when you find yourself in such a situation rather than advising something that will fall on deaf ears because the other doesn’t understand why they have to be advised or does not believe that you are going to fix a very complex problem for them.
What if you don’t have the answer?
A second situation that might hurt your credibility is when someone asks for your advice, but you do not have the answer. This one is way more simple. Do never pretend that you know the answer when you don’t. A successful entrepreneur once told me that in such situations its best to say: ‘good question, I do not have the answer right now, but I will get back on that as soon as possible’. We are all humans, and we simply can not know everything that’s asked of us, so do not be shy to tell someone that you have to find the right answer, or that this is not your expertise. In consulting this happens very often, and consultants fix this issue by stating that a colleague or even a competitor might be of better help, since they have more expertise regarding the specific question. At first glance you might think this will harm your credibility, since you did not have the answer, but in most situations it will boost your credibility, since you can focus on questions that you are good at solving and you will not pretend to be able to answer everything, which in the long run will most definitely hurt your credibility.
What if the one you are going to advice has higher expectations than what you are going to advise them?
Sometimes when someone wants you to solve a business problem, they expect a very complex solution, while the solution might not always be as complex as they think. If you came up with an advice for which you think it is not sophisticated enough, you should not try to make it more complex or try to find another solution that ‘sounds’ better. No, you are not asked for advice for no reason. Believe in what you’ve found, stand by your result and have confidence in your own ability. I’ve seen student’s credibility rise by their confidence when presenting their advice, while the advice wasn’t all that much. I’ve also experienced students that did very good work that, due to their confidence in their own advice, looked like not as strong an advice. Hence, be confident and present your advice with confidence. If you’ve done your job right you can always answer complex questions of your client or colleague when you are done giving your advice explaining on which basis you made certain decisions. You can even ask them if they agree with your considerations.
More on how to present your advice with confidence can be found in my previous article ‘the art of presenting’.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article, and I hope it will help you in your future career!