Beating the advice monster

By Andrew on 21st January 2017 — 1 min read

A few years ago a colleague of mine gave me this great piece of advise for workshop facilitation:

"Never hold the pen"

He meant, that I should try whenever possible to have participants be the ones who are writing things on the white board or on post-its.

The temptation to give shape to other people’s thoughts is very great. As a designer, that’s one of the main bits of business. Taking all the inputs and coming up with something that might work for the user, the business and the implementors. This is what we do.

However, experience tells us to resist jumping in too early with that. Embracing the messy incommensurables and the uncertainty for as long as possible means being able to add richness to understanding the data gathered, and to flush out lots of ideas before settling on a direction that we can all feel confidence in.

Critically we have to move forward together. Within a team, this often means coaching others rather than leading the agenda yourself.

I have a tendency to talk far far too much. Which is similar, I think, to the problem of wanting to hold the pen. Always eager to get my views tabled, rather than to lead (more confidently) through asking the right questions of others.

Some cracking questions to have ready

In The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier presents 7 coaching questions:

  • What’s on your mind?
  • And what else?
  • What’s the real challenge here for you?
  • What do you want?
  • How can I help you?
  • If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?
  • What was most useful to you?

These are intended for use in mentoring situations. Where people are directly looking for your guidance. They help you resist what the author calls the “Advice Monster” and will get people thinking for themselves. Empowering them really to own and sort their own problems out.

With just a small amount of tweaking, we could ask these sorts of things in a design workshop too. They can help us to move beyond acting as the person who will try to do it all themselves (to try to mop up and satisfy all the competing interests in play) – towards someone who’ll lead teams of people to do that activity together, for themselves.

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