Advice

If my Mom were still alive today, she’d be fascinated by the concept of crowdsourcing. It was Mom who really taught me how to ask for advice, give advice and (perhaps most importantly) ignore advice.

I’ll be honest: I had a horrible adolescence. Hormones and being the nerdy, bookish girl at school made me miserable, and I responded in ways that made people around me miserable. Looking back, I’m not inclined to blame anyone; I just had a more difficult time than many others I knew. But around the time I turned 16, I “began to be human again,” as Mom phrased it. Things got easier.

One of the big changes in my relationship with my parents, especially Mom, was that they gave me advice instead of instructions. Instructions are necessary for children, and sometimes for adults, but when people trust each other’s judgment, advice works best.

Giving advice is not the same as telling someone what to do.

Here are the key points Mom taught me about giving and getting advice:

  • When you are making a big decision, it helps to have input from other people, especially people whose opinions you respect.
  • Don’t ask people to tell you what to do, and don’t tell others what to do. Offer suggestions, point out possible dangers, and share ideas.
  • It’s perfectly OK to not take advice or have your advice not taken. The important thing is to listen and consider all options. If you get a lot of advice, even good advice, you won’t be able to follow all of it.
  • In the best decisions it’s often difficult to tell who suggested which part of the final plan.

I learned another important lesson about advice at work: punch holes in your colleagues’ ideas in private, but arrive at a consensus before you present a plan to a wider audience. The goal is to get the kinks out early on.

Getting advice isn’t an excuse for not thinking on your own. Used well, opinions from others can expand the horizon of your thinking–that circumference that divides knowledge from ignorance–and see potential questions, problems and alternatives you might not have noticed on your own. People who can give and take advice (and are not offended if, after consideration, you choose not to take theirs) are a wonderful resource and should be appreciated.

So while we’re giving advice about giving advice, what’s yours? Where do you look for advice, or how do you gracefully decline someone’s advice without shutting the door for the future? Leave a comment here.

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