Humanity has collectively confused the concept of advice.
We may not always enjoy receiving them, but most of us enjoy giving them. Regardless, it’s an important component of human interaction and social cohesion.
Problem is, advice and people on both sides of it suffer too often.
We throw them around too recklessly without forethought.
I have no intent of spoon-feeding obvious facts to adults, but to establish a foundation for an important set of reminders, let’s quickly peek at what the word advice means.
Cambridge dictionary defines it as “an opinion that someone gives you about what you should do or how you should behave in a particular situation”.
Merriam-Webster defines it as “recommendation regarding a decision or a course of conduct”.
I could go on, but the point already made by the words ‘opinion’ and ‘recommendation’ is that the receiver of advice (advisee, henceforth), by definition, is under no compulsion to follow them.
I think we all agree until now, but there’s some catch.
If you seek advice, it is safe to assume that more often than not you consider your source of advice to have better knowledge, understanding, experience or wisdom regarding the issue. Most likely your advisor also assumes you assumed that.
This (among other things) calls for a recap.
Let me directly speak to both parties.
It must be nice that someone considers you worthy of enlightening them by filling an apparent void with your intellect.
You’re sitting on a chair, and you recline under the weight of the responsibility ordained unto Your Wise Majesty, putting your hands together, fingers interlocked, eyes at the sky (ceiling, more likely) trying to crack through an equation destined to save the planet.
Or, you take the role of an empath — make a concerned face as you ache with the hurt, feel the pain of the lost, while they wait for you to comfort and liberate them from the shackles of indecision, like the Vice President to the Office of The Lord and Savior.
If you could relate, task #1 — get over yourself.
Firstly, when someone seeks your opinion it could be because — (a) they trust you, (b) you may have stumbled upon information they need, (c) they simply want a second opinion, (d) they want someone to think out loud with, and/or (e) they want to confirm whether their gut feeling or a decision they have already made makes sense to a third party.
Someone can ask for advice for many reasons other than your superiority or perceived expertise in the area.
So, humble yourself.
If you don’t know enough, there’s no shame in that. Just tell them you don’t know or you’re not sure. You’ll be doing both them and yourself a favour.
If you believe you can help, remind yourself to tread lightly because you may potentially be helping someone construct a mindset.
The more important the decision under question, the more careful and humble you should be. You should always be open about how informed and sure you are about what you are saying.
If you need time to think or do your own research, gather some intel to inform yourself better, disclose that. Request some time and tell them why you need it. Don’t say “I’ll get back to you on this after I’m done with X and Y”.
Don’t pose as a genius.
When you’re engaged with the advisee, don’t lose focus from the kind of impact your advice is going to have on them. Remember, your tone and wording should clearly reflect your level of knowledge and confidence.
Again, don’t pose.
Once you’re done and they’re gone, know that your job is complete. Whatever happens next — there’s no credit for you to take, or blame (hopefully not), as long as you were honest and clear.
Your first job is to do your own research.
Search, read, think — make yourself informed with some basics.
Seeking advice should never precede the least possible effort to figure things out on your own — because that gives your advisor the idea that you know nothing.
It’s dangerous because they won’t take you seriously enough and it makes them more prone to giving reckless suggestions. If you don’t know anything, you probably can’t even differentiate between solid and half-done (or even malicious) advice.
Your next task is to shortlist your advisors according to the importance of the advice (heavily determined by the potential impact your decision will make on your life — be it related to money, career, health, love or anything of great value).
This means, the knowledge, experience, expertise and most importantly trustworthiness of your advisor should match the gravity of your pending decisions.
Trustworthiness is not only important to filter our potentially malicious advisors, but also because you may have to provide background and context in some cases — and not everyone’s help is worth trading your privacy for.
Just a quick side note: Remember this while gulping down self-help content from non-experts. Clickbait, sounding smart and an apparent fan base can yield a lot of cash. Tread lightly for your own benefit.
Thirdly, when you are engaging with your advisors, account for their mood, background, apparent shifts in body language (are they nervous? or suddenly self-important?) to calibrate the quality of and bias in their recommendations.
Next, repeat this process with a few more advisors if possible. Mix it up. Look for people from different backgrounds and walks of life, while not sacrificing their perceived capacity to help you. This will establish a heat map for you. You’ll see what points are touched upon commonly and what they seem to have very different views on.
Finally, find yourself in a calm environment, take some time to process whatever input you’ve gathered, pair them up with your own continuous thought process, research and gut feeling (an under-appreciated super-weapon) to reach your decision.
Remember, YOU are deciding. Regardless of what you have learned from others, take responsibility for being the one to seek your sources and being the one to make the call.
Remember also, if none of them ring right to you, and you were strongly inclined to do something entirely different from all advice you received, that’s completely fine.
Regardless of the results, even if they turn out to be right on hindsight, you did your best. You can’t always be right.
You have now completed the introductory course to giving and receiving advice.
Live and help live!