Archives for posts with tag: empathy

advice trap

When the nice people at MBS Works sent me a copy of The Advice Trap to review, I was intrigued by its premise: That we all have an inner advice monster that gets in the way of us getting better results from the people we manage, coach, or mentor, because we talk too much.

This is me in a nutshell. And while I freely admit it, I find it difficult to do anything about it.

Mr. Bungay Stanier is also the author of The Coaching Habit which I have not read. This is unfortunate, because a failing of the Advice trap is to act as too much of a sequel / advertisement for Mr. Bungay’s other book. But if you can look past this, and its other main issue (see below) there is actually valuable and worthwhile advice for all those who are routinely asked their opinion. This is, of course, the central paradox behind the Advice Trap, it is a book about how giving advice is a trap and a monster, which can only relay this idea by… giving advice. To Mr. Bungay Stanier’s credit he does freely admit and deal with this irony.

A central theme of The Advice Trap is that giving advice is generally more about the person giving the advice and does not actually solve the issue at hand, never mind actually benefit the person who is doing the asking. What the Advice trap does is give the reader tools to help them stop immediately leaping to give their own take on what they have been asked, but to dig deeper, be more curious about the issue, and see if by working with the questioner that a better solution cannot be arrived at. It also makes the point that the best solution may very well not be arrived at by the yourself and how to be prepared for that.

These are powerful and useful tools and ideas. Framing them as “The Advice Monster” is actually close to genius. It also goes deep into why as leaders and managers we often fall back on giving advice when it does not work as well as we think it does, and rarely does anything for our team’s growth.

That managers need to be more empathetic and have humility is not new to anyone who has read a business book in the past twenty years. Where the Advice Trap succeeds is in actually giving practical advice (there’s that paradox again) on how to do that while in the middle of leading a team or coaching an employee.

This brings me to The Advice Trap’s main failing: it is so jargon heavy that it becomes overwhelming at a couple of points, and gets in the way of what the author is trying to achieve. That Mr. Bungay Stanier has created a useful toolbox is not in doubt, but that tool box can be very difficult to open and to remember which tool to use when is a problem.

This is a book to take ideas from and to adapt and use them for your work environment. Which indeed seems to be how the book was written in the first place given the references to other works. The Advice Trap is a good book for both new and experienced managers, because we are human and we all fall into the same trap – The Advice Trap. It makes for uncomfortable reading in places; its never nice to see one’s unconscious motivations laid bare, but The Advice Trap is important because business books so rarely challenge our own assumptions about ourselves.

This is a challenging book on multiple levels, but that should not let that stop you using it to tame your advice monster. Those monsters need taming and the Advice Trap has the tools to help.


(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help fund my book buying habit.)


A short book, Entangled Empathy puts forward the case that for upgrading our relationship with animals to one of responding to the “needs’ interests, desires, vulnerabilities, hopes, and unique perspectives” based on the context of their situation rather than focusing on animal “rights.”

What does context have to do with this subject? Gruen uses the example of man and his children entering a subway car where upon the man sits down and closes his eyes while the children proceed to become extremely disruptive. When eventually someone suggests to the man that he do something about the behavior of the children the man agrees, apologizes, and states that his wife had just died and they don’t seem to know how to deal with it anymore than he does.

Essentially, Entangled Empathy is a rallying cry to abandon ridged ethical principles when dealing with animals and move to a more empathic model. To do this we have to recognize that we already have complex relationships with animals and when it comes to their welfare a one size fits all solution can actually be harmful.

There is a lot of merit to what Gruen is talking about in Entangled Empathy; however, the execution leaves a little be desired. There are some rally quite interesting models used to prove ethical points (such as the man and the children on the subway); however these are not expanded upon with any great new insights. Rather they are broken down to component parts and never put back together again.

Gruen does use a couple of examples from her own life, and work, but they are never fully explored in any meaningful fashion. Anyone who reads the book and expects to finish with a set of tools to better handle animal welfare based on entangled empathy is going to be sorely disappointed.

While certainly interesting, and it gives some food for thought, there is little in the way of answers here which makes Entangled Empathy much more that a statement of principles bordering on “we can do better.”

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