Are You Better at Giving Advice Than Taking It?
“The first rule about advice: Take it with a healthy pinch of salt. Nobody (not even your mom, dad or spouse) has the context you have. Nobody is free of biases. We all love our own thought processes and generally believe we are right….
PS: If you find yourself sharing your perspective or giving advice, state your biases. It helps the person on the other end.”
Advice is a funny thing.
Some people seem to have a constant surplus of it, and offer it non-stop to those around them, even when it is unsolicited or unwelcome.
Others (recalling my post “Are You an Askhole?”) are on the receiving end of lots of advice from others, but they rarely take any of it.
A very common example of “askhole” behavior occurs in the teenage years. Teenagers’ parents can become constant broadcasters of advice, and the younger folks develop ever more sophisticated skills for appearing to listen (or perhaps not even bothering with this pretense) while actually turning down the volume of the incoming messages to nearly zero. In most cases, teenagers are rarely soliciting advice from their parents. It just flows, like a river in flood.
I’ve heard experienced parents whose children are now fully grown, say that even when teenagers seem to be in a tunnel which parental communication signals seem unable to penetrate, parents should still keep on offering their unsolicited wisdom, perspectives, and advice. The theory goes, that even in the absence of acknowledgement, let alone agreement, a certain degree of the message still seeps through in the long run.
On the other hand, like all advice, this depends on the tone and mode of delivery. There is a fine line between advice, for example, and nagging. Some people tend to take good advice and deliver it in such a way that it sounds like, and is heard as, nagging. Advice transformed into nagging is usually excessively repetitive, critical rather than constructive in tone, sometimes condescending, and usually a one-way street (ie lacking an invitation for feedback or response such as “What do you think?”).
The teenager-parent context is a somewhat special one, but giving and receiving advice pervades our professional and personal lives. If you think about your friends and associates, they probably include people who either give too much advice, including on subjects where their expertise is doubtful, or offer advice in an unhelpful tone –e.g. bossy or condescending. You’ll probably also find friends and associates who ignored some very good advice and got themselves into a pickle as a result.
It is not instinctive for us to ask for advice. There are face issues involved, and potential embarrassment, especially in the workplace. On the other hand, we deny ourselves a lot of learning opportunities by remaining like ostriches with our head in the sand, and being afraid to ask advice from those with richer experience that we have.
My motto is “The only dumb questions are the ones you’re afraid to ask.” I was fortunate at an early stage in my career to have frequent access to quite a few experienced old hands in my field, many of whom were 25 to 30 years my senior. I asked a lot of questions of them, and by and large, they were delighted to share their experience. I learned a lot from these mentors.
Young people often don’t realize that one of the dividends older people value most is having young people ask for their advice. Instead they hold back from asking, preoccupied by thoughts about how so-and-so is so busy, so well known, so highly respected, on such a higher status plane than me, etc. Sometimes we forget, they are just people, and they were our age once.
Having said that, I of course also recognize that some corporate leaders project an imperial image which intimidates and warns against junior people coming close or asking for advice. If that’s the case, look elsewhere for your advice.
As the quote above suggests, we should usually take advice with a grain of salt, and filter it to our own specific circumstances. There are plenty of times when the advice we receive is just plain wrong for us at that point in time, and should be ignored. Part of growing up is developing the judgment, critical thinking skills, and the courage to make these determinations.
I can think of a number of times when friends and associates cautioned me against a certain business or investment move. Despite that, I trusted my instincts and went ahead, and it turned out to be the right move after all.
Asking for advice in a hyper-competitive work environment, where trust is in short supply has its risks, to be sure. Someone you thought could be trusted might turn out to be otherwise, and use your request for advice against you in some way. Learning how and when to take that risk is part of self-development. If you don’t try, you won’t learn.
If you develop a trusting relationship with a colleague or associate, the giving and receiving of advice builds a stronger bond and helps both parties grow.
When giving or receiving advice, the magic word is R-E-S-P-E-C-T. On both sides of this two-way street, conducting yourself in a consciously respectful manner will open doors time and again, in a rewarding and fulfilling way.
The moral of the story is that for personal and professional fulfillment, we all need to strive to be effective givers and takers of advice.
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