If you’re an educator, coach, consultant or advisor you usually want one main thing for your clients – that they use your advice.

That only makes sense, right? They’re paying you fees, sometimes large fees, to help them either change something or accomplish something that they just can’t manage on their own. It doesn’t matter whether you’re hired to give advice, as a consultant might do, or be more hands-on in helping with change as a coach might – the desired outcome is still the same.

This sometimes leads to pressure to help our clients get results. A little pressure on the client to change is good. After all, change is seldom easy and often requires a little push to get started (okay, and sometimes a big push).

Yet any good coach or consultant knows that we have to manage our clients and how they progress with a bit of skill. Sometimes we can put it all out there and people get it. Other times we have to pull back a bit and offer change in small steps. So we give each client what they can handle in the way they can implement it best. As I’ve seen it, this is the art to being an effective coach or consultant – and even to being an effective teacher, parent, spouse, or friend really.

In the years I’ve been a coach / consultant / advisor (I’m still uncertain what to call myself) one piece of advice has stood out from the rest. It came from the most interesting of sources.

Hannah Whitall Smith was a Christian speaker, author and women’s rights activist in the late 19th century. She was an active speaker in the Holiness Movement of the 1800’s and was active in Women’s Suffrage and the Temperance Movement in the U.S.

Years ago I found a quote which she wrote and tucked it away with thousands of others I have. Then a few years back, I ran across it again. Now as a website designer who was also coaching and advising my clients on how to use their websites to grow their business, it made me stop and consider how I approached my coaching work.

The true secret of giving advice is, after you have honestly given it, to be perfectly indifferent whether it is taken or not, and never persist in trying to set people right.

Hannah Whitall Smith

Stop and think about it for a minute. How would your coaching practice or your consulting business change if you took this approach? How could it change the relationships you have with your clients? And moreover, how could it enhance the results your client’s are getting?

What changed in me was the understanding that it’s not my responsibility to create change. It’s only my responsibility to offer the opportunity. So rather than feeling like I had to create change in someone’s business, for instance, I could be more effective by meeting my clients where they are and giving them the space and time to come to change themselves.

Someone once told me that it’s not in our nature as human beings to want to share what we know and not see it utilized. It was suggested that it shakes us up inside a bit when people don’t do what we advise them. Whether that’s true or not is an interesting debate of its own.

Yet what I’d like to know is how this quote might change the way you do business? How might it affect your conversations, relationships and approaches with your clients – even if you’re not a consultant or coach?

And maybe the more interesting question of all, if you so choose to consider it, is how could Hannah’s advice change your relationships with your loved ones?

Let’s talk about it…

(note: image from ambergris on Flickr)

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. There often seems to be a level of resistance to change, even uif it’s for the better. I find that clients are used to the way they are doing things, and have great trepidation about what it means to adopt a revolution.

    After all, even if they are doing something badly and it gives them pain, they know that historically the pain subsides, a bit like childbirth. Problem is how to overcome that resistance, and the only way I know is to show how the change will add value to them, and how not adopting change will cause harm in the long term

    Hope there are a few clients out there listening:-)

  2. Advice really is a tricky thing. A lot of it boils down to a desire for control – over ourselves, other people, the world, etc.

    I think you’re right to point out that advice is just advice and people are ultimately going to make their own decisions.

    Great post!

  3. Great advice. My coaching “coach” has told me that over and over. It’s hard to accept, because when I start a coaching program I REALLY want everyone to change. It’s going to be hard to live by, but I know it is the best way to do things.

  4. rob,
    Me too.

    I’ve always found it interesting how people hire coaches or consultants to help them solve their business problems and then expect nothing to change. Doesn’t that seem odd to you?

    George,
    I hear you. And what I’ve come to is that I can only be the advisor. The client has to make the choices to make the changes.

    How have you dealt with that?

  5. Well I haven’t started a full blown coaching program yet, but my coach says that as a coach you have to look at yourself as more of a guide. Much like a guide, your clients can choose to follow your advice or not. Their success is ultimately up to them, not you.

  6. I have often felt that the man that hires you wants you to confirm his decisions. It is often very lonely at the top and unless he is a great participative leader, he needs sounding boards.He usually thinks that he can hire on an adhoc basis rather than a permanent overhead (pun intended), some one who will listen to him and agree with him. Sometimes, it is also a status symbol to have a personal coach! Perhaps, his financiers may insist on him taking on one. These are things we need to find out by some clever digging to decide on our own strategy.

    The trick is as you say, managing precisely that, to protect your professional integrity and more importantly, sanity.

    How one manages that will vary from client to client. I mostly find that being assertive without being aggressive about it, usually works. Go back to my six hat analogy too.

  7. This is a bit off the topic, but i just wanted to say that teachers everywhere seem to be not very well paid, considering what a very important job they do; educating young minds. Other jobs seem to be more important that they are rewarded with higher remuneration than this most noble and laudable of professions.

  8. George,
    That’s so true. People will do what they’re ready for. A great coach, from what I’ve witnessed, will know how to push and support the process at the same time. The best coaches always leave their clients feeling better when they’ve finished a coaching session.

    What are you doing as a coach?

    Home Recording,
    That’s been my experience as well. People often don’t know what they’re getting into when they hire someone who can truly help them. I’ve watched many business owners who think they’ve got it all figured out but their businesses aren’t producing what they need. Often they’re stuck in their own ideas.

    Yet people hire a good coach to help them make change – even if they don’t want too change. The job of the coach should be to help the change manifest in a way that allows the client to accept it.

    Nicole,
    Please, don’t even get me started on education here in the States. All you have to do is take a look at John Taylor Gatto’s work to get an idea of how we’re dumbing down our kids. But that’s a whole different topic.

    Jason,
    It’s true, it’s often about control. I heard a number of businesses talk about control being one difference between consultants and coaches – consultants liking control more. Can’t say I have any opinion one way or the other. I think it has more to do with the individuals than what they call themselves.

    Thoughts?

  9. Love that quote! It’s one I should probably copy into my planner and carry with me.

    My mantra with all of my customers is to never waste money on advertising you can’t track. But no matter how many ways that concept is explained, or how vigorously the concept is agreed with, when that next ad rep comes along with a great deal, all of the time we’ve already spent hashing out a plan is forgotten.

    Honestly, this has only happened twice. But in the process I’ve learned that the business owner wants to be in control of the marketing decision making. A while ago, I overheard a small business owner say that everyone tries to tell him how to run his business. He found it insulting.

    I think as consultants, we should take that to heart. The business owner is responsible for the success of his business. We offer time-tested, well thought-out-advice, but we don’t have nearly as much at stake as the business owner. Being “perfectly indifferent” as to whether our advice is taken or not, and not persisting in trying to set our customer right is excellent advice for any consultant who wants to improve his/her customer relationships.

  10. Two things I’ve learned the hard way:

    1. People will like you better if you don’t offer unsolicited advice.

    2. You will like other people better if you are not attached to outcome.

    Wish I’d known ’em when I was 20. O, the heartache I could have spared myself and others!

  11. It would not change anything, because that is already what I am doing. ;))

    But it is wonderful to have a quote like this available for it.

    Basically I want to see that the other side _understands_ why I am suggesting or insisting on something.

    Once I am sure of that I can let go and adapt to their needs. I also say this up front to clients, because I come across as tought and am very insisting in some areas, but with the right client that works beautifully.

    “You would be really stupid to do that. Here is why.”

    “understood. But I still want to go this way.”

    “Fine, let’s make that happen then”.

    There are of course limits, butmost of the times it is fine. 😉

  12. I just wanted to quickly thank you for that quote. Sometimes it is the most sublty spoken couple of lines that have the biggest impact.

    Thanks Dawud.

  13. Dawud, thanks for that quote and your post.

    I recently read part of a book about validation and listening. The book’s main point was that before giving someone advice, you need to demonstrate that you are earnestly trying to understand them and that you recognize the legitimacy of their thoughts and feelings.

    So the same principle of not attempting to force change applies before as well as after dishing out advice.

  14. Great quote – refreshing and honest. I work with many coaches and have many clients myself. I must admit I do want my clients to see benefits and positive results so we agree a plan of action. I like them to have committment.

    Andrew

  15. Coming to the main advise that has impressed you so much, none of us are saints. I would find it extremely hard to follow the advise. To get paid for advise, giving it and not getting it taken, will be galling for me. The advise however should be taken, if one must, if only to keep one’s sanity.

  16. Thank you for this reminder. When my clients ask me for it, I give them feedback but not advice. Feedback is more of “this is how it feels to me” thing, advice has this flavor of “this is the RIGHT way of doing it, if you don’t follow it, you’re doomed”. So thank you again, great “advice”. 🙂
    Margaret

  17. communicatrix,
    Could have probably saved me some time as well.

    Of your two points, do you think one is more important than another.

    Nicole,
    Interesting. Do you ever make a bit stronger recommendations about directions clients should take?

    Shari,
    Without a doubt the business owner is responsible for their success. All we can do as consultants and coaches is offer our expertise in enhancing or growing their business.

    I wonder, though, about being perfectly indifferent. Sometimes I think it is necessary to push a bit. Doesn’t mean be cruel or create difficulty for the client – they are, after all, the decision makers in their business. I just think a good coach or consultant acts like a board member who takes a vested interest in seeing the business succeed.

    Thoughts?

    Home Recording,
    I think what you’re saying is more realistic, truthfully. I know I’m bias and have opinions and I know that many of my clients pay me for my opinions. So I have to give them, don’t I?

    spostareduro,
    Certainly. How did it touch you?

    Easton,
    I don’t think we can force change on anyone – so that tactic should just wither on the vine.

    But don’t you think if a client is paying us for our expertise, we should tell them when they’re making mistakes or not understanding our advice?

  18. GreatManagement,
    I agree with you. I think there’s a balance between forcing our opinions and making them clear. One way is to help the client understand benefits and detriments of their choices, don’t you think?

    Margaret,
    That’s the stumbling I’ve seen a lot – the ‘right way.’ There’s no right way. Yet there are ways that are more direct or less direct to the goals. That’s where our expertise comes in, don’t you think?

  19. Totally agree. Some individuals are motivated by the positives and some by the negatives!

    Andrew

  20. Dawud,

    I wish I’d heard that quote long ago. I had to learn it on my own. I used to feel discouraged when people didn’t take my advice. Like I’d wasted my time. What I’ve come to realize is that it doesn’t matter whether they took my advice or not. The conversation still had value. The client has had the opportunity to talk it out, weigh options, get perspective, etc. Often they will remember the advice months or years later and wish they’d taken it. Or maybe the conversation helped them stay strong in their own course which may have been the right thing for them anyway. There is always something of value in just talking about it. For both parties.

    Lisa

  21. greatmanagement,
    But what do you do when they don’t want to hear the positives?

    Lisa,
    I’ve always thought that if you actually learned something, it’s never a waste of time.

    You never know what people hear or understand from what we say. What appears helpful to us may not be and vise-versa. All I know that is that often people hear more of how we deliver the message than the message itself. Have you experienced that?

  22. Really enjoying the conversation, Dawud.

    Been a coach/consultant/advisor for 30 years and the thread here is the real deal.

    A couple of things that made me smile:

    1. Coach/consultant/advisor. I still don’t know, either. What I finally realized is that each client will simply call me whatever is comfortable for them.

    2. 90% of success lies in the contracting phase of what we do. If, in haste to do a gig, one doesn’t take time to carefully define the elements,, someone isn’t going to be satisfied.

    Keep writing. . .

  23. I do not agree that we should PerFectLy indifferent whether our advice is taken or not. What really matter the most isn’t that. We are not giving our advice based on nothing. We know what we are talking about. We are paid to solve our client’s problem. Knowing that, we should PerSisT. Why? It’s because we care.

    I see this issue have similarities with principle on public speaking; that it’s about Giving, instead of Receiving. What it means is we should be fully aware that we are there truly to help. We are doing it with Passion that is based on Sincerity. But it isnt necessarily mean being indefferent.

  24. GreatManagement,
    Yeah, I’ve done that. It does work on some clients. But what about those who don’t really want to change?

    Steve,
    First, great to see you back.

    Keeping thing clear is essential in any contract. And I think it’s even more important for coaches/consultants because often deliverable have more to do with intellectual information than actual things. So both parties need to be clear on what’s expected, don’t you think?

    Akhmad,
    For the most part, I think you’re right. It seems a bit disingenuous to just sit back and not prod the client to change when they’re paying you to help them overcome their struggles. Yet, at the same time, I don’t think there’s one way that works for everyone. Don’t you think that different types of clients, in different circumstance, need different approaches?

    Jenny,
    Which part?

  25. “But what about those who don’t really want to change?”

    I would tell them they are wasting their money and ask why they would want to do that?

    That might spark them into action or we may have to part company.

    Andrew

  26. Brilliant! One of the places I get stuck in my coaching is in wanting my clients to change. I want them to experience what I experience. But, ah, they are their own agents. I guess Richard Bach had it right: if you love something, set it free.

  27. Dawud, I appreciate this advice and I think it applies very well when dealing with friends and loved ones.

    However, in a business setting I think my clients are often paying for the hand-holding, the nudging, and my willingness to take a stake in their success. If I go in and then leave, remaining detached, and don’t offer my opinions when they don’t take my advice, then my clients won’t grow nearly as much as if I try to gently move them in the direction I’m helping them to travel.

    While the quote could be used as a rationalization, I know you’re not using it that way. I just want to point out that some of the greatest successes come from sticking it out to make an impact, even if you’re just the outside consultant.

    Great blog, look forward to meeting you in Chicago!

  28. The best advice about being a coach is that you are going to be teaching people, you are going to tell them how to achieve the best. You should have keen observation as a coach. Your coaching should identify the best and should be able to help them in achieving the best.

  29. GreatManagement,
    Could be the case. I guess I think each relationship is different and requires different tactics.

    Tom,
    I think you’re right. Yet there has to be a balance between allowing the status quo and ‘forcing’ change. I agree with the above comments that you’re paid to bring change.

    Thoughts?

    Jared,
    I agree, actually. I think each relationship, however, requires a different tactic. The most effective leaders and coaches are those who can understand where their clients are and meet them there. Then begin to nudge them in a manner that’s appropriate for their circumstances, need and personality.

    No reason to push change when the client isn’t open to it. Rather use different tactics to help the client grow.

    Melody,
    It does, exactly. That’s what I’ve been saying in the comments above. There’s no cookie cutter method for dealing with clients. You have to be fluid.

    Robert,
    I agree in theory. But isn’t getting there done in the action? If so, the actions may need to be different for different clients, no?

  30. Having performed a lot of consulting work I also have made the mistake of trying to force a client in the direction of a particular piece of advice of mine.

    One tactic I have used recently is to point out similar mistakes by the client’s competition. I would gather that this is what ‘Great Management’ is talking about. I agree with your assessment that you have to know the client. Some will take that as an affirmation that they’re doing it the right way when they really aren’t.

  31. Mr. Johns,
    I think there’s a fine balance between ‘allowing’ the client to stay where they are and ‘forcing’ my direction on them. I think the best coaches/consultants sit in the middle and learn what their clients can handle.

    Thoughts?

  32. In the years I’ve been a coach / consultant / advisor (I’m still uncertain what to call myself) — kinds funny but true. you want people to understand what you do so you sometimes want the most popular term. also thought you want to be called something you like.

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