In both business and life – seeking, receiving and giving advice are central to effective leadership and decision-making. Yet many of us don’t view them as practical skills we can learn and improve. Receiving advice is mostly seen as the passive consumption of knowledge. And when we give advice we often view it as a matter of good judgement -you either have it or you don’t- rather than a competency to be mastered. It’s perhaps a subject we don’t give much thought, but many extraordinary leaders understand it’s an essential communication skill. When you’re a mentor, guru, teacher or consigliere advising even becomes a full-time job. As a side note, wouldn’t it be cool to have a consigliere though? Someone that always knows what’s best and ideally looks badass like Tom Hagen in the Godfather or Silvio Dante in the Sopranos.
In the first months after launching Lifevise we were craving for good advice and feedback. We still are, but we already understood early on how valuable the feedback from our users is. So we provided functions and forms that made it easy to leave feedback. Let’s have it! I thought. The very first piece of advice we got was the following:
“Grow a mustache. A thick flaxen one. Like Tom Selleck.”
Although kind of helpful, it was not particularly the advice we were looking for…
In this short article I will share some good practice and insights about dealing with advice, whether you’re the advisee or advisor.
Tom Selleck’s imposing mustache. Also referred to as the Chevron.
Let’s first talk about smart ways to deal with advice that’s given to you.
I will make a distinction between unsolicited and solicited advice.
When you receive unsolicited advice it will often raise a feeling of aversion or resistance. Naturally, because you didn’t ask for it and it may come across as a personal attack or implied criticism.
Although it also depends on timing, try to discern where the advice is coming from. Is the person coming from a helpful place, or is the advice more about their needs, and not really appropriate to your situation?
The advisor could have given you his opinion because he was excited, trying to be friendly or for altruistic reasons. On the other hand the intent could be entirely different – to establish dominance or for narcissistic motives. When you determine the advisors intent, you can decide how to continue.
By asking questions we learn. But the older we get the more we know, and also assume we know. As a result we ask fewer questions and often you only have one perspective: yours. To learn and grow it’s important to keep an open mind and ask questions. When you ask for advice it’s best to always include the following:
- Your desired outcome (be specific)
- The options you’re already considering
- Any important and relevant context
When you do this, it will not only give you better-directed feedback, it will also show that you’ve thought about the decision.
If you’re asking for guidance it can still be difficult to figure out which advice to listen to, and which to ignore. Advice can initially feel contradictory, difficult to reconcile or just wrong for you.
Questions you can consider and that can help to provide clarity are:
What’s the advisor’s perspective?
Consider the standpoint from the advisor, is the advisor placing himself in your shoes or not? Not everybody is looking for the same outcome as you. If you are aware of the person’s experience, it’s also an important factor to take into account.
How does it compare to other advice I’ve gotten?
It’s wise to ask multiple people, this way you have a 2nd opinion.
Can I live with this advice being wrong?
Realize that it’s up to you to ignore or make use of the advice and also in what way.
So we all switch roles, sometimes we’re the ones being advised, other times we’re the advisor. As it turned out, people are not fond of unsolicited advice and when asking, they often are biased or just seeking for confirmation.
For advice to be good advice it must improve behavior or thoughts. Because the previous part gave insights about the advisor role as well, here are some tips:
- Listen carefully
- Put yourself in the advisee’s shoes
- Think about the consequences of taking your advice
- Brainstorm with the person
- Be honest
- Set a good example
- Understand that the person may not take your advice
I couldn’t think of a better way than leave you with some bonus ‘food for thought’ taken from the classic essay wear sunscreen.
“Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”
About the Author
Melvin Heinsius is the founder of Lifevise. Armed with an entrepreneurial spirit and a healthy dose of creativity he loves the power of a well-told story. He considers himself a lifelong learner and he’s happy to share his insights along the way.