Almost 10 years ago, I had my first experience with a professional forum when I joined Entrepreneurs’ Organization. A forum, which is also often referred to as a Mastermind, is a group of peers who meet regularly, with the goal of helping each member improve personally and professionally. The forum structure is a foundation of many professional organizations and self-help groups.

In a standard forum meeting, a member makes a presentation about an opportunity or challenge they are facing and asks for the group’s input. After the topic at hand is presented, each forum-mate is given a set amount of time to share their perspective.

Given the request for input and feedback, you might expect a presenter to receive various advice from the other forum members. However, most forum organizations train members to specifically avoid giving advice. Instead, members are guided to share an experience they’ve had, or that someone they know has had, that is similar to the presenter’s challenge or opportunity. Then, they explain the action taken in that situation, and the outcome.

Here’s an example that illustrates why forums prioritize experience sharing over advice: imagine I am giving a presentation to my forum about whether I should hire a good friend into my business. Under an advice framework, my forum-mates take turns telling me what I should do in my specific situation. This can come across as judgmental, subjective or just an uninformed opinion, especially if my topic is sensitive or nuanced. Members of my forum might also be subtly competing, wanting me to follow their advice, rather than helping me discover the best course of action.

However, with an experience sharing framework, everyone in the group will instead share a personal story related to my presentation. It’s even suggested that forum members start their contributions by saying, “In my experience.” to set the right mindset and tone.

In this setting, there are some key advantages:

  • I am likely to hear a diverse set of real stories that had very different outcomes, rather than having everyone compete to solve my problem.
  • These experiences are more likely to have value for the entire forum, not just me. While another group member may not face the exact same situation I have today, they may be able to apply a member’s experience share to a similar situation in the future. This helps each forum member learn even when they are not the one presenting.
  • Because I am hearing stories from others, rather than advice, I can pull pieces from each of these varied experiences—often across different industries and backgrounds—and then draw my own conclusion.

Having been in several forums over the past decade, I have really come to appreciate the wisdom of this approach. In fact, I often find myself defaulting to this language of “in my experience” outside of my forums, rather than trying to just give someone an answer or solve the problem for them—especially in a professional context.

For example, if someone asks me how to manage an underperformer on their team, I might even share two experiences with very different outcomes and let them reach their own decision about how to move forward.

For leaders who struggle with micromanagement, this experience sharing approach, combined with the Socratic method, goes a long way toward building a team’s critical thinking and problem solving muscles. If you regularly default to advice giving, you may inadvertently encourage your team to bring all their problems to you to solve, which means more work for you and less growth for the team.

The next time someone comes to you seeking personal or professional guidance, try taking the experience sharing route over the advice one. It can often create a better outcome for everyone.

Quote of The Week

“The funny thing about advice is we always tell others the things we can’t really do ourselves.”


– R.M. Drake