This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

If you’ve been to one of my workshops, , you probably felt frustrated more than once when I insisted that you slooooooow down in conversations, and listen far longer than feels natural or comfortable before you offer your advice/opinions/solutions. (Why? Because that’s the key to being influential). And you probably wanted to know how to know when it’s OK to switch gears. Today’s tip reviews the answer.

Think of it as a two-part test, where you ask yourself these questions:

  1. “Am I confident I really understand the real issue?” Key words are “really understand” and “real issue.” You’re a subject matter expert. You’ve been doing your thing for a long time. You’ve seen the same or similar situations many times before. And all of that means you are much more likely to be the proverbial hammer in search of a nail, even with the best of intentions. Add to that a natural tendency to mistake a client saying, “I need XYZ!” as a mandate, or an expression of their own clarity, and we’ve got premature (and ineffective) solutions in the making. Taking time to listen—to the words and the “music”—means you’re far more likely to waste far less time (theirs and yours) solving the wrong problem.

[Tweet “Think the timing is right to offer your advice/opinions/solutions? Ask yourself these two critical questions first: #getreal #trustedadvisor”]

  1. “Am I confident they’re really able to hear me?” If you’re like most professional advice-givers, you all too often mistake, “WHAT SHOULD I DO?!” for an actual question, rather than an expression of urgency/frustration/stress/anxiety. So you respond with your brilliance, and it makes no difference because they aren’t really able to hear it. (Irony: then you start feeling urgency/frustration/stress/anxiety.) Enter listening, in the form of lots of paraphrasing and empathizing. You know you’ve listened well when you hear, “Hmmmm … what should I do?” rather than, “WHAT SHOULD I DO?!”

The lessons in this Weekly Tip all boil down to one of my favorite Charlie Green-isms: “It’s not enough to be right; you have to earn the right to be right.” Use this two-question test to be sure you’ve done exactly that.

Make It Real

This week, try applying this two-question test any time anyone asks for your advice or opinion—both at work and at home. What do you notice? What do you learn?

Learn More

Find out why clients actually value problem definition more than problem-solving, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or learn about how (not) to handle objections in Chapter 14 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).