Peer Coaching, Group Sharing & the danger of Advice

I’m trying to share a few of the things I’m learning along the way as I seek to grow as a leader. One group I participate in is EO, a peer group of CEO’s/Entrepreneurs who use a protocol called Gestalt to share learning and speak into each other’s business practices & life from a place of their experience versus giving advice. Advice-giving can be dangerous. For example, when I interacted with other church planters, often (in retrospect) I can think of several people I tended to give my advice/opinions more than I ought and it created tension in the relationship. Enter the Gestalt Language Protocol.
To begin, what I want to communicate isn’t so much a promotion of Gestalt (as you can research) which includes forms of psychology and worldviews. Phil Kristianson, an EO Trainer writes about Gestlat:

Gestalt is a German word for form or shape – and in English has come to mean ‘wholeness’. Built upon earlier theories by Hume, Goethe and Kant; gestalt theory emerged in the early 1920’s as a psychological belief system, in contrast to the behaviouralist & structuralistic approaches of the time that sought to explain complex ‘things’ by breaking them down to simple elements. Gestalt focuses on the selforganizing and intuitive mind that perceives wholes from incomplete elements. Gestaltists believe that context is key to perception.

I’ll share the part of Gestalt that I believe is valuable, particularly if you are meeting with other peers, such as Church Planters/Missional Leaders (such as through GCM Collective) or church communicators (Center for Church Communication) and want to discuss, learn and improve your context. While in Gestalt, I’ve found it supports a vulnerability in sharing and a deeper sense of owning the experience of the group collectively. Here’s the benefits of why I think this practice is valuable:
1. The group value of the shared experiences far outweighs the one-directionaly nature of the specificity of advice. If we were going to give a person advice on how to improve the engagement of their volunteers, that person would potentially walk away with a handful of specific tools/tips to try to implement. Instead, if we all shared our experiences of times when they saw volunteers be engaged and really ‘own’ the project they were leading, we all may walk away with aha’s that we could apply to our own context.

2. Advice is arrogant; the implication of advise is that I know what is best for you. It doesn’t build trust in the situation, because the subtle message is I trust myself because I have the answers and understand your context rather than your ability to take these shared experiences and apply them in your context.
3. Advice creates division and hurt feelings. As I said before, advice is dangerous, in that if a person takes it and it doesn’t work they can blame the advisor and if they don’t take it, the one giving advice stands in judgement of them.
Ultimately, these create a place where people withhold sharing because they don’t feel safe in a vulnerable place. What are the advice danger signs? Avoid opinion, “you” statements, future tense and words like “should”, “would” or “could”
So how do you adhere to the Gestalt Protocol?
1. Speak only from experience.
2. Use “I” statements.
3. Speak in Past tense.
4. Use Questions to better understand the problem, not give veiled advice that is leading to problem solving.
5. When sharing experiences, do so for the benefit of everyone. Posture should be group-centered, not toward the own who shared the problem.
This ‘experience’ sharing is helpful in many contexts. I’m not suggesting that it should be used for all conversations, for example if you are speaking about theological definitions. But, when you are doing peer coaching and want to share learnings or if you are stuck, it is a powerful tool.