If you feel uncomfortable when an employee comes to you for advice about some type of personal problem, consider this: Employees who turn to you for counsel are showing that they trust you and value your opinion. It’s a sign that you’re a good manager.
On the other hand, you’re probably better off not getting too involved in employees’ private concerns. There’s always the possibility that your advice won’t work out. If so, your attempt at being helpful may backfire.
To walk the fine line of being both a manager and a counselor, here is some advice:
Don’t upstage. Start off by listening, not talking. Even if you’ve had a similar experience, keep it to yourself until you’ve heard out the employee’s problem completely. Later, you may want to bring your own experience into the picture to shed light on the situation.
Keep the talk flowing. Maintain eye contact throughout the conversation, nodding occasionally or saying, “uh-huh,” “yes, go on,” and so forth. Ask questions if the person bogs down: “How do you feel about that?” The point is to help the individual express feelings.
Don’t assume you’re expected to give advice. Often, people who come to you with problems are only looking for sympathy or to be reassured. Sometimes, just a few words of encouragement or praise is all that is needed.
Suggest, don’t direct. Help the person make the decision for himself. Ask questions such as, “What do you want to do?” or “What have you considered doing?” If the person has hit a dead end, you might suggest a few alternatives. Be careful not to sound like you’re endorsing any particular approach. Don’t say “You ought to ...,” but rather, “Have you considered ...?” To bring the discussion to an end, make your suggestion sound more conclusive. A good approach might be: “If I were in your position, I think it would be help if you were to sit down with your [wife, friend, daughter, etc.] and explain how you felt.”