As leaders, we get to fill the role of counselor in a lot of people’s lives. For good or bad, we have the honor and responsibility of providing these people with advice.
This is by no means an all-inclusive methodology, but its the process I use. I would love to hear all about how you approach these situations in the comments below.
Step 1. Seek First to Understand
It seems silly that I would have to list this first, but listening is paramount. This is something that we have to intentionally engage in. It’s too easy to get distracted by the room you’re in or by the thoughts in your head. You’ve got to actively oppose those distractions.
The act of listening goes far beyond the act of hearing. To hear is to simply sit and receive information. To actively listen means making eye contact and visibly following along. There’s nothing more disconcerting than someone who won’t look you in the eye.
Suspend All Judgement
Depending on the situation, this can be tough. Maybe someone is confessing something embarrassing to you. Perhaps they’ve done something horrible. This isn’t the moment to cast judgement. This isn’t the time to point a finger and apply a label.
Instead, be discerning. The person you’re sitting across from may very well have done something worthy of a rebuke. This isn’t the moment to provide that rebuke, however. Apply restraint and continue towards understanding.
Step 2. Dig Deeper
Ask Deep Questions
This is where it starts to get uncomfortable. Ask tough, probing questions. Don’t be afraid to get to the root of the problem. Peel back the issues and refuse to accept simple answers. Be persistent, yet loving and empathetic. Keep on digging.
I’ve struggled with this step in the past because things can get downright awkward. It can be tempting to wimp out and stay at the surface. The result of that, however, is a shallow understanding of the situation and, ultimately, bad advice.
If you’ve ever sat down with me, you know I carry a moleskine and take notes in just about every meeting. I have to do this for my sake and yours. I don’t remember details and folks deserve better than my subjective memory. If you’re in the same boat, carry a notebook.
Step 3. Connect
If you can relate, then relate. Your personal experience can play the biggest part in connecting here. A lot of times, people don’t necessarily need your advice. They just need to be heard and known. Relating a similar struggle and your victory over it can be all the advice they need.
People generally do what is right in their own eyes. Sometimes, that limited vantage point can cause them to make a serious mess of things. If they’ve done wrong, they need to be told about it. But, that’s not where we start.
Empathize and relate on an emotional level or else your advice will not be received.
Step 4. Pray and Deliberate
I literally feel the weight of these meetings. As I said before, this is an opportunity to either help or hurt someone. In mid conversation, I’m actively praying for God to send me the wisdom to respond lovingly and appropriately.
If you seek and can’t find the words to say, then now isn’t the time to feign intelligence. If you have to, defer your advice to a later time and place. Let the person know that you want to provide the best counsel possible and that you’ll have to do some homework in order to accomplish that.
- Study – Search Scripture. Read books and blogs. Research the facts and figures. Do what you have to do in order to gather all of the necessary information.
- Consult – Talk to people who are smarter than you. Get their advice on the advice that you should offer. It sounds confusing, but you’ll be glad you did.
Step 5. Give Your Best Advice
Honesty & Truth
If this person has done something worthy of discipline or “intense fellowship,” then now is the time for you to provide it. If they haven’t screwed up and simply need guidance in a situation, then act out of genuine concern for their best interests; not your own.
When I unknowingly sin against and hurt someone and go to a trusted advisor/leader for advice, I need to know about it. Don’t be afraid to provide correction for your friends and followers. You’re there to provide leadership, so lead them.
“If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” 1 Cor 13:1
Be honest and speak the truth, but do so in love. Every bit of this needs to be about the person on the other side of the table and their benefit. This isn’t the time for you to get your power fix or fulfill some sort of a messianic complex.
The conversation does not end at the bottom of the coffee mug. The worst thing you can do is up and disappear. Invest the time and energy to follow up with this person. See if there is any resolution and what you can do to help further.
Maybe you gave great advice. Thank God for helping you see a friend through a difficult time. Perhaps you gave bad advice. That’s ok; you’re not perfect. Learn from the situation and grow. Thank God for experiential learning.
Join the conversation: What did I miss? What do you do differently? Click here to respond.