There is One Type of Advice that I Hate. This Is It

Listen first, talk after

“Right action is better than knowledge; but in order to do what is right, we must know what is right.”
— Charlemagne

Most people love to give advice. They love when someone asks for their opinion. And even people who don’t give good advice still love to give it.

But there is one thing that most people do not do before they give advice.

It is subtle. Most of us do not notice it, but it happens more often than not.

I know I do fail to do it, too. But I am learning to get better.

And after someone points this out to you, you will start to notice it almost everywhere.

There is one type of advice that I hate. And this is it.


Confronting a Friend

Years ago, I was working out with a friend in my basement. During the workout, I experienced some pain in my hip. This was not unusual at all, since I have had this exact hip pain since I was 15 years old.

Before I said much about the pain and how it affected my workout, my friend started to give me advice about how I could “fix” my particular problem.

I listened carefully. But something about the interaction did not seem right to me. My friend did not fully understand that I had lived with this issue for over 20 years. I had tried various remedies and protocols. I had been to over a dozen different doctors — all different types — to find a solution.

I started to get annoyed. But why would I get annoyed with a great friend of mine? I did not realize why until later.


Origin of the Name

This particular type of advice has a name — a great friend and mentor of mine first explained it to me.

A few years ago, I had a short conversation with an acquaintance. I remember that the person gave me a piece of advice about my career that I did not agree with. I was so frustrated that I called one of my mentors and he identified the source of the frustration immediately.

“Prescription before diagnosis.”

What?

“It is like a doctor giving you a prescription before actually doing a diagnosis. Of course it is frustrating. If a doctor did that, you would not trust him one bit.”

He was exactly right.

Most people want to give you advice about your own life. Sadly, most people should not be giving advice, period.

If you are going to trust a doctor’s prescription, then you should demand that the doctor spend time with you and ask questions. Only then is the prescription meaningful.

Furthermore, you would never trust a doctor who prescribes before diagnosis. So why would you trust anyone else who does that?

But when someone listens and asks the right questions needed to make a diagnosis, then it is impressive.


The Worst Kind of Doctor

Most of us have some experience with a doctor. Usually, we visit a doctor when we have some type of health issue. Something is wrong. So we need to visit someone who can give us advice about our health. We need an answer.

Usually a doctor will ask us questions and then possibly examine us. The doctor might run a few tests. And then ask a few more questions. And then finally the doctor gives us a diagnosis and some options.

But can you imagine if the doctor gave the diagnosis first?

What if the doctor did not ask any questions? What if the doctor did not do any tests? What if the doctor just walked up to you and then started to tell you exactly what was wrong?

What would you do?

Would you be alarmed? Would you believe the doctor? Would you have confidence in the diagnosis?

What if the doctor was world-renowned and had a great reputation? What if the doctor were famous? What if the doctor had written books? Would those matter, if the doctor never attempted to diagnose the problem before giving a prescription?


Prescription Before Diagnosis

Back to my friend working out with me in my basement.

I was starting to feel annoyed. But why?

The answer is that he was giving me a prescription before taking the time to do a diagnosis.

So I called him out on it.

Prescription before diagnosis.

I know that he was a little frustrated with me when I called him out.

But that was exactly what he was doing.

Some time later, he thanked me. He realized that he was making decisions without first taking the time to diagnose the situation — in many areas of his life.

Today, I constantly think about this concept in order to make good decisions. Whenever someone gives me advice, I always consider whether the person is giving general advice — or whether the person giving the advice has taken the time to truly diagnose my particular situation.

  • I look for this in order to determine the people that I want to spend time with.
  • The people that prescribe before diagnose can really harm you. They will influence you without actually understanding your situation.

As someone who writes and wants to write more, I struggle with this. I want to write and share what I have learned, but I can’t listen and diagnose every person who might read what I write.

How do I follow this principle and still have a clear conscience when I write? If you write, what do you do?

Here’s my solution: I tell stories.

I share what has worked for me.

And I try to give context so that you can self-diagnose and and then make a determination about whether what worked for me will work for you.

I struggle with this, and I probably always will. How do I share what I (think) I have learned, but still do it in a valuable way?

Every time I hit publish, I give an answer.

So watch out for advice that is a prescription before diagnosis.

It’s everywhere.