When asking people for advice

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Advice as past decision justification

There is one really important thing you should know when asking people for advice. In most cases, people will give you advice that justifies their past decisions or reflects their personal experience.

Practical example

Let me give you an example. A few years ago, I’ve started taking better care of my health. Since I had not done any exercise for 30 years, I had had very weak core muscles. Consequently, I have damaged my hand ulnar nerve. Bad posture contributed to nerve entrapment in my spine.

Now if anyone asks me whether they should exercise more, I start explaining how good it is, but that you must be careful that you have strong core and don’t overdo it. There’s nothing wrong with the advice. But it was my own individual experience that justifies my current decisions – working more on my core. Not all people start exercising with such a weak core.

Luckily the damage has been more or less manageable, but I could have had such a bad experience that I would stop recommending exercise to people at all. Yes, we shape our opinions and therefore also advice according to what happens to us as a consequence of our decisions.

Therefore don’t ask an employee if you should become an entrepreneur. And don’t ask an entrepreneur for career advice if you want to be a successful scientist. Maybe you can ask an entrepreneur for advice if you want to be more business oriented in your scientific work, but then also expect some suggestion why you should be more an entrepreneur than scientist.

Don’t ask a person feeding themselves with fried chicken what they think about healthy lifestyle. And don’t ask people who never needed their university degree if you should get one. Except if you share the same viewpoint and are only looking for adherents.

Find people who have already achieved exactly what you want to achieve, and listen to their advice. But only if they are happy and successful doing it, otherwise they will merely explain how hard it is and why not to do it.

When you are receiving advice, always ask yourself about the context of the advice that the person is giving to you, and if the same applies to your life.

And at the end, remember: even when you find the right person and get some really good advice, you still have to find your own path. Nothing can be achieved in the same way twice.

Don’t look for safety when asking for advice

The second important thing regarding advice-giving is that people usually ask for advice just to get outside confirmation, not because they really want a piece of advice. Thus people often take an advice that agrees with what they have already decided to do.They don’t believe in themselves enough, and just want to hear that they are doing the right thing from someone else.

I have seen this so many times with people asking for business advice and hoping to hear, “yes, you are doing the right thing and here are some additional ideas”. After that, they immediately forget all about the additional ideas and go back to doing the same thing as before, feeling a bit better.

It’s the same in personal life. When someone asks you for advice, they are often looking for someone to listen to them and understand them, hug them and share sorrow with them. Not many people are actually looking for advice. Even if you give it, they will ignore it.

Therefore when someone asks you for advice, make a quick judgment if they really want advice or just comfort. Give them what they are really looking for. And when they really want advice, remember that you will give them a piece of advice that justifies your past decisions. If possible, try to distance yourself from your past, and put yourself in their shoes and their context.

About the author

Consulting and management coaching

Blaž Kos has managed venture capital investments over the past 12 years and participated in the development of the start-up ecosystem in the region. Today, he advises companies on growth strategies, process optimization, the introduction of lean agile methods and the digitalization of business. In addition to the Slovenian blog, he also writes an English blog, which was selected among the 50 best bloggers in the world in the category of personal and business growth.
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