Fred and Sam left the seniors’ residence for a stroll on a nice sunny afternoon. They stopped at a showroom window and were admiring a sleek, new BMW.
“You know,” Sam said, “the reason I could never afford a car like that is because I never listened to anyone’s advice”.
“That’s funny,” Fred replied, “the reason I was never able to afford one was that I always listened to everyone’s advice”
They were probably both right. Advice is both necessary and risky: necessary because without it we’d waste a lot of time correcting unnecessary mistakes; risky because what worked well for one person might be disastrous for another.
Striking the right balance between necessity and risk requires comparing the circumstances of the person seeking the advice to the situation on which the advice is being based, then adjusting the advice to accommodate the differences.
When receiving advice, always consider whether the qualifications and experience of the person giving it are appropriate to your situation. It’s not a good idea to take carpentry advice from someone with missing fingers. You must also ensure that your advisor clearly understands your situation.
As an advice-giver you first have to determine whether you’re being asked for advice or for help. There can be quite a difference. If your ten-year-old son asks for your “advice” about a school science project on seeds, your time commitment is going to be quite different depending on whether you simply outline an approach, or end up driving him to three nurseries and a lumber yard, then spend two hours in the workshop boring holes and lacquering, not to mention an evening on the internet looking up weird-sounding Latin names. You might well be in a perfect position to give advice, but totally unable to give the required amount of help. When approached for advice you have to ask questions. There’s no other way to place the problem in its proper context; which is essential to the formulation of your advice. There’s really no such thing as a dumb question, only dumb answers; and so-called dumb questions are a lot less embarrassing than dumb mistakes.If the advice-seeker is simply looking for confirmation of a decision that has already been made, and the chosen course of action seems appropriate, then it’s best just to say so. But if the seeker is about to follow a course of action that’s clearly inappropriate, you’ll need a hefty supply of diplomacy and tact as well as good reasons why the particular plan is inappropriate.
When giving advice, one specific is worth a dozen generalities. Suppose a friend asks you for advice on how to get a loan at the bank. Which of the following do you think is more helpful?
“Well, Jane, you’ll have to convince the bank that you’re credit-worthy, have a good reason for borrowing, show that you’re able to pay back the loan, and make a good impression”, or
“Jane, draw up a list of your assets and debts and a simple budget of your income and expenses for the next year. Take those to the bank and tell the loan officer exactly why you need the money.”
Positive advice is a lot easier to take than negative advice. Try to find ways to be for things rather than to be against things. Also, it’s usually easier to be clear and specific when communicating positively.
If you’re not equipped to give solid advice on a problem, recommend the seeker to someone you know who will be able to help. That’s often the best advice of all; it’s definitely the safest.
People resent having advice shoved down their throats. If your manner, tone of voice, or choice of words irritate people, they’ll probably not accept your advice, no matter how reasonable and beneficial it may be.
Never give advice to people when they are tired, when they are angry, or immediately after they’ve made a mistake. As a matter of fact, it’s a pretty good idea not to give anyone advice when you’re tired or angry or have just made a mistake.
The person who gives good advice but sets a bad example is rarely effective. “Do as I say, not as I do” is the last refuge of the advisor who lacks credibility. However, “Do as I say, not as I did”, is a completely different matter. Having learned from a mistake is often the best qualifier for an advisor.
No matter how the question requesting your advice is worded, the question that’s really being asked is, “What would you do if you were me?” Circumstances are often similar but rarely identical. Personalities are never identical. That’s why it’s critical to recognize differences in circumstances and personalities. What worked for me may not work for you, even if only one factor is different. Therein lays the big risk.
This doesn’t mean that you should be reluctant to seek or give advice; far from it. What it does mean is that advice has to be tailored to suit the circumstances and personalities involved. When it is, advice can make our lives very effective and efficient.