How to give and get better advice

The problem with most advice is that it’s delivered as “here’s what I think you should do.”

Yet it typically reflects, “here’s what I did in a similar situation.”

That old situation and this new one are never the same: different time, different place, different people.

Plus, upon receiving that kind of advice, we end up stuck again: we’ve turned to someone we trust who has more experience with this type of thing than we have. Hearing their advice, we face a new dilemma: is their wisdom, experience and fresh perspective more valid than what we (closer to the texture and nuance of the situation) see and know?

There’s a better way to approach this conversation, both as advice-seeker and the advice-giver.

If we are asked to give advice, we start by advising less.

Instead, we take a position of inquiry. Our job is to tease out what is going on beneath the surface, the questions that are being balanced, the decision that’s lurking but afraid to show its face. As this picture starts to emerge, we can, gently, begin to engage with what’s been offered up. We can re-frame the options that have been presented and share some new ones. We can question the weight being given to this or that risk (or opportunity). We can inquire about some strongly-held assumptions to see if the could be held more loosely, revealing both their truths and their limitations.

Ultimately, through this engagement, the person who felt stuck doesn’t get a take-it-or-leave-it answer, instead she ends up armed with new criteria, a few better assumptions, and a bit more confidence in her own choice-making ability. So equipped, she’s ready to get herself unstuck and find the path she will choose to walk.

Similarly, as the person seeking advice, we can remind ourselves that a much better opening question than “what do you think I should do?” is “can I talk this through with you?  I’d love your input on whether I’m thinking about this in the right way.”

That’s not what I’d do

You have two options when you hear this from someone you like and respect.

Either you decide that their wisdom, experience and perspective bring something to the decision that you didn’t see, and they are right.

Or you decide that there are things you know that they don’t know, things you can see that they cannot, and that even though it feels like 9 times out 10 you’d want to follow their advice, this time you won’t.

Either way, your job at this point is to hear the advice, process it, make adjustments, and take action with conviction. Getting stuck in between what both of you thought is almost never right, and moving forward tepidly is the worst outcome of all.