Michael Bungay Stanier
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So I caught up with a friend of mine the other day. I love her. She's smart, she's brilliant, she's talented. And after we grabbed our coffees and we did the usual warm-up chitchat, Shannon looked at me and said, "Michael, you're a good guy. I need your help. I need your advice." And my Monster was delighted. (Laughter) She started telling me what was going on, and I started to pretend to listen, because quite frankly my Advice Monster already knew exactly what it wanted to tell her. (Laughter) But I'm pretty good at the fake active listening. You know, you tip your head on the side, you nod, you look engaged, yet caring, yet concerned, small, meaningless words of encouragement, "Mm-hm. Yeah, sure. Mm, yeah, right. Oh, you go, girlfriend." and "Exactly." But honestly my Advice Monster's like, "Could we just hurry this up, please? 'Cause time is short." Finally, Shannon finished, so finally, I was able to share my brilliant advice. And make no mistake, it was brilliant. Shannon tipped her head on the side, looked engaged, yet caring, yet concerned. (Laughter) Started nodding, making small, meaningless words of encouragement, "Mm-hm. Yeah, maybe. OK. Yeah. Nice idea." Honestly, my advice, my help was going nowhere. My Advice Monster had sabotaged the conversation - again! Now, this isn't just a Michael thing. It's not even a mansplaining thing. You! All of you! You know your Advice Monster. Somebody starts telling you about something. You don't really know the situation, you don't really know the people involved, you certainly don't have the full context, you definitely don't have the technical specifications, and after about 10 seconds, your Advice Monster's like, "Oh! I've got something to say here!" (Laughter) You know, research tells us that medical doctors' Advice Monsters tend to interrupt their patients after about 11 seconds. But that's not really a medical thing, it's a human thing. Now, I can see some of you are looking at me and you're thinking to yourself, "Michael, it's true. Other people's Advice Monsters? Very annoying, really pretty irritating. (Laughter) But my advice? My advice is honestly pretty fantastic! And what's wrong with advice anyway?" Well, look, there is nothing wrong with advice. Advice is a key part of civilization. I mean TED, TEDx, it is one large forum for advice. The problem isn't with advice. The problem is when giving advice becomes our default response. And we all have this ingrained way of behaving. For most of us, it's become a habit. It's become an advice-giving habit. Or - "Agh!" for short. (Laughter) And it turns out there are three ways that advice-giving goes bad. The first two are kind of connected. Here's the first challenge with advice-giving: you're busy solving the wrong problem. This happens all the time. We get seduced into thinking that the first challenge that shows up is the real challenge. It almost never is. It's people's best guess; it's their first hypothesis; it's a stab in the dark. But it's really rare that the first challenge is the real challenge. But let's just say for the sake of argument that somehow miraculously you are finding and working on the real challenge. Here's the second issue with advice-giving: your advice is not nearly as good as you think it is. (Laughter) And if you're thinking to yourself, "Oh no, Michael, no, no, my advice is magnificent." Well, I'd encourage you to go watch all those TED videos on cognitive biases that will explain just how bad your advice normally is, particularly if you think you give good advice. But with those first two are just you kind of wasting people's time and life and resources and money. So you know, no big deal. (Laughter) The third issue about giving advice cuts a little deeper and cuts both ways. If you are on the receiving end of advice, if you're on the receiving end of somebody's Advice Monster, you're constantly getting the message that you can't figure this out yourself. And that cuts away at your sense of competence and your confidence, and your sense of autonomy. And if you're on the other side of the equation, if you have an Advice Monster - and if I can be clear, you all have an Advice Monster - well, forget about the fact that you're disempowering people. Forget about the fact that you're a bottleneck to everybody around you, just that added responsibility of having to have all the answers, and to save the person and to save the day, it's exhausting, and it's frustrating, and it's overwhelming. Now, I can see you looking at me and going "Yeah, Michael, point well made. We get this. I get it. I understand, fair enough." And I know you do get it. It's straight-forward. You get this, in theory. In practice, this is still how you're showing up on an everyday basis. That. (Laughter) So what's going on with that? Well, it's your Advice Monster. You keep feeding it and it is insatiable. Somebody starts talking, and your Advice Monster looms up out of the dark and goes, "Oh, I'm going to add some value to this conversation! Yes, I am! Here I go." (Laughter) You have to learn to tame your Advice Monster. And to tame it, you have to understand it. And it turns out your Advice Monster has three different personas, and if you listen up, you'll hear the one that resonates most for you. The first persona of the Advice Monster is "tell it." Tell it. It's the loudest of the three. It has convinced you that the only way that you add value is to have the answers. To have all the answers. To have all the answers to all the things. If you don't have all the answers, then you fail. Anybody kind of know this one? Yeah, I thought as much. The second Advice Monster, a little more subtle, is called "save it." "Save it" has put its arm around you and gone, "Your job, your only job is to rescue everybody. Don't let anybody stumble, struggle, have a difficult time. Don't let anybody fail. If anybody struggles at all, you fail." Anybody know this one? Any parents in the room, for instance? Exactly. The third of the Advice Monsters, the sneakiest of the three, is "control it." "Control it" has convinced you that the only way you win is to maintain control at all times. Don't let go the grip of anything. If anybody else takes over control, even a little bit, then you and they will definitely fail. Anybody know "control it?" That's my favorite one personally. And in fact, there's something that connects all three of these personas. And this is an important point: in that singular moment, when your Advice Monster is in control, you are saying that you are better than the other person. You are better than the other person. You're saying that they're not up to it. You're saying they're not good enough. You're saying they're not smart enough, wise enough, fast enough, moral enough, experienced enough. You're basically saying that they're not good enough. But it's not only the other person that is diminished in this moment when your Advice Monster is in control. You're diminished as well. Because when your Advice Monster is in control, you lose that connection to your humanity. You lose that connection to your empathy and your compassion and your sense of vulnerability. You start using your answers as your armor. Now, I was going to give you a quick talk about the power of empathy and compassion and vulnerability, and then I thought to myself: Brené Brown or the Dalai Lama or Jesus. OK, I think this ground's been pretty much covered. So - (Laughter) Rather than that, let me give you a quick primer on how you might go about taming your Advice Monster. And what you're looking to do is replace an old habit, the advice-giving habit, with a new habit: Can you stay curious a little bit longer? It's as simple and as difficult as that. Can you stay curious a little bit longer? How do you stay curious? Well, questions are the kindling of curiosity. They're the light that holds back the darkness of the Advice Monster. So let me share with you the three questions I wish I'd asked Shannon when we were in that café together. The first question is this: What's the real challenge here for you? What's the real challenge here for you? It's the focus question. It recognizes that at the start of a conversation neither of you really know what's going on. You just both think you do. So not only does "What's the real challenge here for you?" keep your Advice Monster at bay, it repositions you to say, "The most important thing I can be doing here is to help you find the really important issue," not to provide the fast wrong answer, which is what happens right now. The second question that I wish I'd asked Shannon is: And what else? And what else? So the acronym is A-W-E. It's literally an awesome question. And "And what else?" has it as the insight that the first answer they give you is never their only answer, and it's rarely their best answer. So when you ask, "And what else?" not only does it tame your Advice Monster, but it helps you go deeper and further on any question that you ask. Before I give you the third question, which I think you're going to like, let me just show you how these two can play really well together. We're going to do something live, right here with us. So here is what I want you to do: think of a real challenge that's going on for you right now. It can be big; it can be small; it can be about life; it can be about work; it can be about a project; it can be a person. I don't mind what it is. Take your best guess. This is a real thing, so actually, think of something. You can write it down if you want or just keep it in your head. And now you've got that challenge in mind, I'm going to ask you a question. Here it is. Thinking of that challenge, what's the real challenge here for you? What's the real challenge here for you? Yeah, I can see people working. I can hear brains ticking over. This is great. Stuff's opening up for you as you think about that. You are like, "OK, I think I've got the real challenge here for me." That's nice. But we're not done yet. Let me ask you another question: And what else? What else is a real challenge here for you? Because I know there's more than one thing. So what else? What else is a real challenge here for you? Just notice how that's popping up and how stuff is opening up for you, which is lovely. But, of course, we're not done yet. I have another question for you: What else? What else is a real challenge here for you? Because there's still more to be unpacked here. Some of you are like, "This is amazing! I didn't know this was all here. Where is this all coming from?" Right. I've got one final question for you. I'm going to step to the edge of the red spot here, just to make it really dramatic. (Laughter) Now that you've considered all of that, and you've done some thinking, "What's the real challenge here for you?" (Laughter) Exactly, your head explodes. You are like, "Oh my god. What's happened here?" And for some of you, you're like, "Wow!" This is really in a minute or less just opened up a new way of seeing this. But actually, here's a really key part of this. You'll notice that your answer to the first "What's the real challenge?" and your answer to the final one was different. And why that matters is if I've been busy trying to solve that first challenge, I'd be offering up my slightly crappy advice to solve the wrong problem. And honestly, that's what's happening all the time. The third question that I wish I'd asked Shannon back in that café, it's a difficult question but it's so powerful. The question is: What do you want? What do you want? Because when you get clear on what you want, it becomes the foundation for action. It becomes the foundation for progress. When you know what you want, you get to step towards that autonomy and that competence and that confidence that we were talking about before. And when that happens your Advice Monster really has not much chance. So that's the challenge in front of us: to replace an old habit, the advice-giving habit, with a brand-new habit: staying curious a little bit longer. Because when you do that, you begin to empower people, not by giving them the answer but by helping them find their own answer. Not by rescuing them, but by helping them find their own path. Not by holding onto control on everything but by giving up some control and inviting others to step in and to step up. And all of that becomes possible when you tame your Advice Monster. Thank you. (Cheering) (Applause)