I listened to a wonderful programme on radio 4 a while back entitled The Secretaries Of Juliet.
Shakespeare’s play Romeo And Juliet was set in Verona, Italy. If you go to Verona you can visit the actual balcony, the famous location of one of the most famous scenes in literature. Here it is:
It’s amazing to stand underneath this balcony and imagine actually being there when Juliet so famously called for her beloved Romeo.
It’s such a powerful experience that hundreds of thousands of people visit the balcony every year. The walls are covered with graffiti, most of it addressed to Romeo and/or Juliet.
One can only imagine what the young lovers actually think of it all.
Many people take things one step further. Around 10,000 people a year – most, but not all, women – write letters to Juliet asking for her advice, each of them expecting a response.
Ok, let’s take stock here. 500,000* people a year visit a balcony on the side of a house. 10,000 people a year write a letter to a fictional character. Who, even if she was not fictional, would have lived over 500 years ago.
A young woman who (spoiler alert) kills herself at the end of the play.
There are a group of women in Verona who set themselves the task of responding to these letters, as Juliet. The radio programme interviews these women, reads our some of the letters (they can be quite heart breaking, even when you remember that they are writing to a fictional character and are expecting a response).
The inspiring part of the programme was, for me, how carefully the responses were crafted. The Secretaries Of Juliet (for that is the name of their society) take great care never to give advice, but instead urge the love lorn correspondents to search within their hearts, to stay true to themselves, or, if more practical advice was required, to speak to those who they love and respect for advice.
Always positive, always caring, but never prescriptive.
Most of us dispense advice to others at some time or another, either professionally or personally. It’s good to remember that the person receiving the advice will not be of the same world view as the person giving the advice.
This is why, when dispensing financial planning advice, we need to be skilled in understanding the client first. And I mean really understanding the client, which often-times means helping the client understand themselves.
And why a business coach should steer away from delivering advice at all, instead helping a coachee to work through their issues and come up with solutions which are right for them, fit their circumstances.
And why I am wary of mentors or business consultants who may have been successful business people themselves, untrained in coaching skills, dispensing advice based on what worked for them.
I guess it’s the difference between coaching, advice, and telling people what to do. The Secretaries Of Juliet never tell people what to do. One suspects that Juliet herself would approve.
Chris is a qualified business coach and provides coaching through Quiver Management. Quiver are delivering a course specifically designed to help advisers use coaching skills. Email [email protected] if you are interested
*Please note that I made this number up. It’s probably about right. I did a Google search and couldn’t find anything more accurate. On the first page of results.