Like many people these days, my friend Chris is going through a bit of a rough time.
Although he still has his job as a sales manager, he’s had to take a pay cut, not once, but twice in the last 4 years. His wife, Nancy, has maintained a part-time job as a reading specialist in the local school district, however each day she reads in the newspaper about the looming cuts to the school district’s budget and wonders if she’ll have a job come September.
Consequently, Chris and Nancy have had to make some deep cut-backs in their expenses.
They can no longer take two-week family vacations in the summer, they eat at home more often than not, and their children are no longer considering applying at private colleges due to the ever-increasing tuition expense.
They purchased their modest home many years ago so fortunately they don’t owe more than what the home is worth nor are they behind on their mortgage.
They have saved very little for their retirement thinking that their home and the ever-rising real estate prices would provide a comfortable nest egg when they retired.
I had known Chris since college but I really didn’t know much of the details of his life up until now. Now over a few beers, the story unfolded before me.
Chris wasn’t looking to me for a loan or a job offer but rather he needed a friend who he could talk things out with...and I was happy to oblige him.
Now most people in my position would listen to Chris’s story, perhaps digest a few items, and start lecturing him and giving him advice on what he should and shouldn’t do to get himself out of this mess.
In fact, twenty years ago, I was probably that same person...very little listening...plenty of advice...
In 1997, I had the opportunity to join an organization called the Young Entrepreneur’s Organization (YEO - now renamed to just EO).
YEO (EO) is a global business network of more than 8,000 business owners in 121 chapters and 40 countries. The organization fosters learning from one’s business peers to create both professional and personal growth in its members.
Within a given chapter, Individual business owners are placed into small, non-moderated, groups of 6-12 people who meet on a monthly basis called forums.
Within the forum, new ideas are created and developed; problems are discussed, and members are coached and held accountable by the other forum members.
Due to the typical "large personalities" of entrepreneurs and business owners, care needed to be taken to limit advice given by others. Everyone around the table had their own methods and management styles which many times maybe clashed with others.
Therefore before joining a forum, all members went through a rigorous training to teach them Gestalt Language Protocol (GSP).
The mainstay of GSP is to never give someone advice but rather speak from personal experiences.
For example, a question may be raised by a member as to how to talk with the bank about extending their line of credit.
A typical person, one who gives advice, will respond to the question by telling the person that she should call every bank in the area and try to start a competition among the banks for their business...it’s as simple as that...this is what you need to do to solve your banking problem.
However a person speaking from personal experiences would respond to the person asking the same question in a completely different way.
They might perhaps respond to the question by stating, "I have no idea what you should do in your specific circumstance, however, when I was faced with a similar problem myself, I made a lunch appointment with my banker and brought along current financials and future projections to discuss over lunch...my banker was very open to hear what I had to say and ended up working with me to increase my credit line...it seemed to work for me...but your situation is a bit different than mine so it may or may not work for you..."
The differences in the two approaches are subtle but profound.
In one instance, you are the boss telling someone else what to do...in the other method, you have some pertinent knowledge that could be useful to someone else.
The key is that the final decision will be made by the person with the original problem. If you tell them what to do, then the decision is no longer being made by them, it is being made by you. If the solution fails to achieve the desired results, then it was your fault not theirs.
Some people like this approach because they never have to be responsible for their own decisions...they can always blame the person who gave them the original bad advice...
One of the best ways to stay away from giving advice is to stop using the word "you" and replace it with the word "I".
Think in terms of "I needed to do...so I did..." rather than "you need to do...so you should..."
This is especially important in a group environment where there could be several conflicting pieces of advice from different members of the group...arguments could arise within the group as to which piece of advice is better to solve the given problem. If everyone just spoke about their own experiences, then the person with the issue can amass a variety of potential ideas without needing to select any single piece of advice.
Returning to my friend, I told Chris that I too have had many occasions to fret about my uncertain future so that I could definitely relate to his plight.
I explained to him that what helped me through these tough times was remembering what I had rather than what I didn’t have. I pointed out that regardless of how his future unfolded...he had plenty to be thankful for.
Unlike so many people in the world, he and his family were healthy, they had a roof over their heads, and food in their pantry and drank clean water. They had reliable transportation, access to healthcare, and live in a relative safe neighborhood. His children attend good schools and participate in local sports and scouting programs.
They may need to give up a few luxuries in their lives but that it was probably a good time to assess what is essential and what is extraneous in their lives. Perhaps they might not even miss the things that they needed to go without...
I didn’t have any specific advice for him but told him that I would be happy to be his "sounding board" should he ever need someone to talk things out with.
I think that he left a bit more relaxed knowing that everything was going to be okay and that yes...he had a lot to be thankful for...
Don’t we all...
We are equally thankful for your support of OptiFuse where we try to help our customers to find solutions for their overcurrent protection problems.