Giving Advice is like a Punch in the Face if it is Not Asked For

Dawn Burke Change, Culture, Dawn Hrdlica, Employee Relations, Good HR

95% of my job revolves around talent management.  Since the term talent management is overused, my definition of talent management includes:

  • Ensuring Talent is available
  • Ensuring Talent is given rewarding career opportunities
  • Ensuring Talent is in the right place at the right time

In order to achieve those three things, I spend a lot of time sharing my opinions, including business opinions, education opinions, personal opinions and gut opinions.  HR leadership roles demand giving opinions on so many levels that it is easy to fall into a very bad trap: Giving opinions when they are not asked for.

What brought this topic to mind was a special I saw on PBS a few days back.  The series is called Forgiveness:  A time to love, a time to hate.  This was a graphic and intense look at the concept of forgiveness from some of the most personal, intimate places:  forgiving the apartheid regime for atrocities against your family, forgiving the radical protester for shooting your father who is a police officer, forgiving your wife for leaving you and the kids.

Forgive_and_forget A point was made that resonated with me profoundly.  Simply put, forgiveness was almost impossible to grant if the person seeking forgiveness did not ask for it.  Those wronged could in their mind (and with time) justify wrongful actions, could feel less intense anger, and could even empathize with the person who wronged them.  But they could not complete the cycle of forgiveness until the one seeking forgiveness acknowledged the hurt and asked for forgiveness.

So what is the HR takeaway?  Employees are well intended.  Employees are also in need of much help and advice from HR.  But for an employee to be really ready to heed the advice—they need to ask for it.  More importantly they need to be open to it.  The cycle of learning (as in the cycle of forgiving) cannot really begin until the “student” asks for it.

How do you navigate this with employees?

  • Be a knowledge leader in your HR discipline, so when someone asks for advice, you are ready.
  • Continually work on building trust within your organization, so employees will feel comfortable reaching out. This is HUGE.
  • If you feel you must give advice when it is not asked for, have a really good reason.  Like to mitigate an illegal action.
  • Know that it is always OK to give un-asked for advice in authentic conversations, but don’t get frustrated if your advice is not considered gospel.

And if you do get frustrated… you can always ask for forgiveness later.