Advice on How to Give and Take Advice

Never miss a good chance to shut up.
Advice on How to Give and Take Advice

Here's a not-so-secret secret when you take advice: forget it!

Why so?

Giving advice, as I've experienced, makes a person feel superior using it to show off how much they know thus, feeding their ego. Even if a person is trying to be helpful, he will be subconsciously making an effort to impress the person asking for advice. That might sound harsh but it's the truth.

Let me explain why.

Remember the time you asked your parents for advice what you should do with your life? Let me guess what they told you. Finish school, go to college, get good grades, get a degree, and find a good job. All of these are good suggestions because they want you to be on the safe path. However, what worked for them will not necessarily work for you, and both you and they know that. But they will insist on proving that their decision was right and they feel good about it.

What Advice Is and Is Not

Back in 2014, I started building a stock photo marketplace and after it gained traction, I decided to talk to an investor. At that time, I didn’t care about his background, interests, values, and anything. What matters was the money he could put on the table. The meeting with the investor went well, but I was left very confused as he was asking all sorts of questions that looked completely irrelevant.

They weren't.

Now, after meeting and chatting with a handful of investors, I've begun to understand why he was asking so many thought provoking questions. He knew how to give advice.

For advice to become valuable and relevant, it needs to go through a screening process where the adviser collects as much data points as possible. Just like the investor I talked to, he had to ask me a lot of questions. The problems I have, the people I serve, how I make decisions, what my type of leadership is, and more - in order to understand what I’m working on, he needs to understand the problem.

Another thing about advice is that it’s completely useless when applied universally. It’s like a custom tailored suit, which is unique for each and every person. Even though advice can be adapted to fit other needs, it must be specific to the problem, the person, and most importantly the context.

Thus, when people ask me, “Should I learn web design?” I can not tell. It’s like asking if next year the same day is going to be sunny. I don’t have the data to make a decision and give you anything valuable.

If I don't have enough information yet I still gave you advice, I am just pleasing my ego to feel good about my choice. I will tell you how I learned web design, and how it turned to be one of the most useful skills, so should you. I didn’t bother to ask why you want to learn it, how you are going to learn it, what your background and motives are, and how much time you want to dedicate.

However, if I wanted to provide you with valuable advice, a tailored one that takes into account your strengths, experience, interests, and learning style, I need to spend some time connecting with you and trying to get into your shoes.

How to Take Advice

Getting advice is as important as giving them. In the same way, you get more information before giving an advice, you should provide as much data points as possible as well as context when asking for advice. Tell what you tried and what didn’t work as well as the things that worked. Otherwise, you’re destined to get general advice that can be forgotten right away.

You must provide context. In 2014, I attended WordCamp, the biggest WordPress conference in Europe.

Big names in the industry showed up and gave their presentations followed by Q&A sessions. I was lucky enough to catch up with Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress, and ask him a question.

I asked, “How do I manage my team when it grows too fast?” Matt was confused. He might have been thinking “What can I tell this guy who is asking a general question without providing me any details.” Is it a team of football players? Developers? Teachers? Artists? I didn’t bother to tell him I was running a design magazine and struggling with managing a team of bloggers, developers, designers, and marketers.

The response he gave me was very general and could be given to anyone on this planet. It wasn’t addressing the issues I was having of managing a fully remote team spread across continents.

Change the way you look at advice that everyone has to give. You must do your preparation. Provide enough context and desired outcome to contribute to your success.

Fear Makes You Question Yourself

First of all, asking advice is not the best way to get things you want. Fear of missing out on a great opportunity pushes you to look for shortcuts and cheats achieving your goals without investing time and effort.

The next time you want to take advice, ask yourself what is triggering it.

Is that desire to learn or fear of missing out on something that the other person knows and you don’t? If that is the case, you’re just looking for validation. You’re trying to confirm your hypotheses so you can feel better.

You are suffering from what psychology experts call as confirmation bias, the tendency to search for specific information that confirms your beliefs and ignores everything else.

When people reach out to me and ask, “Hey Tomas, what do you think of this business idea?” I respond, “I think it’s great and you should give it a try.” They would happily thank me and feel more confident about their idea.

You don’t have to ask for permission for most things in life. Asking for advice where you are looking for confirmation is a waste of time for both parties.

Never Take Advice from Someone You Wouldn’t Trade Places With

As Tony Robbins said in one of his interview with Tom Bilyeu, if you want to be wealthy, find out what poor people are reading, watching, talking and don’t do it.

I like how people are always coaching me on everything. They are advising me on how to travel, manage money, write, read, exercise, give presentations and become influential. I’m okay with getting advice, but the thing is that most of the time it comes from people who are not qualified to give that advice. I never take advice from a poor person telling me about how to build wealth, a constantly sick person talking about how to be healthy, or book recommendations from an individual who doesn’t read.

When you take or ask for advice, make sure the person is qualified in the field you want to improve. Make sure to provide enough context and ask what worked for them in certain circumstances. Then instead of them trying to tailor that advice you can analyze and adapt it to your life. You, after all, know what is best for you.

Don’t Be Fooled by Status

It’s easy to get intimidated by status.

When I was a junior designer at a design agency in London, a senior designer would come to me and teach me how to do things one way or the other. I would politely accept it, try it, and figure out that it’s not the most efficient way to do it. However, I didn't say anything and kept doing what was taught by someone higher although I know it wasn't right. The fear of challenging someone whose status is higher than mine led me to keep doing inefficient work and waste my and the agency’s time.

Then one time, the director of the company asked me to push boundaries and produce a quick prototype. When I asked him how to do it, he said it doesn’t matter, that the process is not important - if one way is faster then don’t do the other.

These words were liberating. Since then, I didn’t listen to authorities as much and always spoke up. If there is anything done one way just because of the status, it doesn’t mean it’s the best way.

Going back to the senior designer, I went back and told him that his process was inefficient and could be done twice as fast. He appreciated my input and started using the new process.

Just because you have more experience, are more successful, or even run the country, doesn’t mean that your advice is the best. Don’t be fooled by status and pressured by someone who is doing better on the surface level.

Take Advice but Use It Responsibly

The next time you are asked for advice, think. Are you ready to invest the time to ask all the necessary questions needed to get the big picture and provide the most valuable input? If not, it’s just a waste of your time and can be a misleading path for the advice seeker.

When you take advice, ensure it comes from a qualified person who has enough context to provide you value. Try to hear everything, not only the parts that confirm what you already know.

The right advice at the right time can transform your life. Invest in learning how to give and take advice and your life will become significantly better.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever taken?

I’m a curious lifestyle blogger, content marketing consultant & entrepreneur from Lithuania. Co-founder of Best Writing. Love great books, building stuff online, designing systems, optimizing lifestyle, learning new skills, and traveling slowly. If you like my writing, check out my newsletter.

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