What neuroscience says about unsolicited advice in the company and how to fix it

We all know that person who loves giving advice—especially unsolicited, chiming in with “Why don’t you . . . ?”

This is a common and well-intentioned practice in many companies, and it usually seems like an innocent enough question or statement.

In more-traditional organizations, suggestions are usually handled through formal channels, while in more-modern companies, they are handled informally and publicly.

We all know that opinions come at us from all directions and in all shapes and sizes. We sit with clients to create products of excellence and allow them to advise us on how to do it better. We encourage teams to tell us how to perfect their interactions, and we meet to analyze how we could have acted more effectively in the previous work cycle.

Giving an unsolicited opinion or piece of advice is likely to be interpreted by the recipient’s unconscious brain as though it’s being dictated to them by someone of a higher rank, or by someone with more knowledge in the matter.

Giving advice can feel great, but neuroscience tells us that unsolicited advice is considered the second greatest threat to the amygdalae.

(C) Leading Exponential Change

The cerebral amygdalae are two separate structures (the left and right amygdala, each the size of an almond). They are crucial in the detection of threats and are commonly referred to as the “smoke detectors” of the body.

The amygdalae secrete chemicals into your brain when you are in protective or intimidated mode, and this causes you to react and protect yourself from perceived threats. As a response to severe threats, the amygdalae can also cause visible physical reactions in preparation for an abrupt muscular response (fight or flight). Your heart starts to beat and pump faster, your face changes color, and your breathing speeds up.

I’m not telling you to refrain from giving advice, but you should consider the objective of the advice and the best way of sharing it. On many occasions it’s preferable to use guiding questions that lead the recipient toward the conclusion.

Feedback should have clear rules. One way to achieve this is through Bob Marshall’s perfection game, a retrospective exercise that helps activate the correct areas of the brain and enhance the positive acceptance of feedback. The perfection game has three prompts that must be answered:

Rate the product / service / interaction with me / change plan / etc. on a scale of 1-10

What I liked about is . . .

If it wasn’t perfect for me, what would make it a perfect 10 is . . . (list what needs to change)

Divide participants into pairs and have them stand or sit face-to-face. For the first prompt, each pair will rate different situations, interactions, or services received from their partner on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = not so good and 10 = excellent). If there’s nothing they think could be improved, they would indicate a 10. If they feel the result could be doubled, then a 5 would be indicated.

Answering the next prompt (“What I liked about . . .”) makes people focus on the qualities and strengths of what was delivered. This situates the brain in a more-open attitude and identifies personal skills, interactions, or anything else that the person performs positively and that can be used by others for continuous improvement.

The last prompt (“If it wasn’t perfect . . .”) makes employees focus on the actions or behaviors that could be added or improved to increase the value of what was delivered. Thinking about how you will provide the feedback is more important than how the other person receives it.

Use the perfection game to discover strengths and stimulate positive using the feedback obtained. Individuals might feel uncomfortable on the first few occasions, but the activity will foster new experiences.

Although this technique is simple, it stimulates creative thinking and makes it possible for the initial subconscious positioning to be positive. It also improves the quality of conversations—all because individuals must not only provide a rating but also proactively give suggestions when their assessment is low.

I have played this game with executives and senior managers of organizations. After overcoming initial apprehension, it has always provided benefits and led to continuous improvement.

Remember, you can only play this game when people feel safe in their working environment.

Now that you understand the effects of unsolicited advice, you are able to see situations from a different perspective.

If you want to know more about accelerating change in the company, I invite you to read my latest book Leading Exponential Change.

Thanks for listening,
Erich.

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