How to Give Advice like a Queen

Listening, and not talking, is the key to giving good guidance

Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the UK, told the story of the one time Queen Elizabeth II didn’t stick to her schedule.

It was January 2005, the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and the Queen had invited Holocaust survivors to a reception at St James Palace. The Queen went two hours over schedule, listening to each survivor tell their story. Rabbi Sacks, in reflecting on that occasion, said:

“That act of listening was one of the most gracious royal acts I have ever witnessed. Listening is a profound affirmation of the humanity of the Other.”

How can listening be a profound affirmation? Isn’t listening passive and affirming active? It seems like the kind of sentence a 5th grade teacher would cross out in red ink.

I have found that people seek advice in 3 different ways:

(1) In the trenches — Seeker wants to talk out a challenge with someone that they trust, both the seeker and the advice giver play equal roles in the discussion.

(2) Mirror Mirror — Seeker wants to be told that they are doing the exact right thing, and they should keep going.

(3) Been there, done that — Seeker finds someone who has been in a similar position before and hopes to be given a roadmap to success.

While they seem to be 3 distinct scenarios, they all have one thing in common: the advice giver is never fully equipped for any of the conversations. How could they be? No good advice giver believes that they have all the answers.

In fact, in my own experience, I’ve learned is that the less I talk the better advice I give.

I think that is what Rabbi Sacks was getting at when he said “Listening is a profound affirmation of the humanity of the Other.” There is one thing that each of the advice seekers have in common, they want to be heard. They want someone to listen to them for who they are and for what they want to achieve.

I also believe that this is why the follow up is the sharpest tool in an advice givers shed. The follow up is when the advice giver checks-in on the advice seeker unsolicited. It shows that the advice giver was really listening, and cares more about the outcome than hearing the sound their own voice. Following up takes no time and can go incredibly far in making someone feel heard.

We may not all be Queens but we can certainly emulate acts of royal graciousness.

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