The Power of Distinction and How Advice is Limited

May 20, 2024

He who can distinguish left from right now enters the world of directions.

Can you remember the times before you could tell left from right? What did the world look like before that distinction?

If I, for example, don't know right from left, and I am now asking someone for the way to the next restaurant, it will be very difficult to navigate that conversation effectively. They might tell me to go right, then straight, then left, but if I don't know right from left, that won't be very useful.

Side note: "That's why advice, in my opinion, has limited utility. It can be powerful, but the person receiving it needs to understand certain things before it can land effectively."

When I learned the craft of coaching, I read a book called "Coaching for Performance," in which the author describes the beginning of their coaching modality, going back about 50 years.

They had developed a model to coach golf and tennis players and were really successful with it.

One day, the tennis club asked for more tennis coaches than they had. So, in order to fulfill the demand, they sent their golf coaches to the tennis court. Now, an interesting thing happened: the tennis player coached by the golf coaches with no experience in tennis, performed better than the other players.

How was that possible? What did they do differently?

They observed the golf coaches when they coached the players and found something interesting.

Since the golf coaches had no experience in the sport, they didn't revert to advice but instead simply asked questions that distinguished the experience of the players.

Where are you looking when you hit the ball? How do you sense your body when you use your forehand? What's missing in your play?

By distinguishing they enabled the players to have more possibilities within their play, greater awareness of themselves and others, the ball and what worked and didn't work.

When it comes to building a business, leading a team, working with people really, our ability to call left from right is of crucial importance.

A business is a moving entity. There are moving pieces in the air, and the questions we tend to ask are only getting us this far.

Many times, problems that an entrepreneur presents to me are a problem because they need to distinguish actionable from not actionable, their feelings from what is really happening, and the current situation from something that happened in the past looked similar but isn't.

They have mixed up their experience in a way that doesn't leave them empowered but instead confused.

"How to?" then seems to be our favorite question.

But when it comes to developing ourselves and others in a way that leaves us truly empowered and not dependent on someone telling us "how," we might want to consider different questions.

What is missing?

What works?

What doesn't work?

What am I sensing?

What am I missing?

Where am I not listening (to things, situations, or people)?

When you start to see that your ability to navigate really comes from your ability to tell the difference between two things, two states of mind, your thoughts about what is and what isn't and your feelings about what someone said and what they really said, you will discover the power of distinctions.

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