On Advice: Giving & Receiving

Late 2015 and early 2016 was a rough time for me professionally. It wasn’t the case that something awful had happened to me, really. There was a lot of change (good and bad). I was new to a special breed of leadership: management. I had a lot of opportunities in front of me (good) born out of unforeseen circumstances (which felt like a bad thing at times). I had a lot of choices to make from day to day, week to week and month to month.

I was in completely uncharted waters and overwhelmed, so I did what I had always done and I turned to my closest friends and my family for advice. I’m the kind of person who processes things out loud and in real time. Talking about a situation or a choice helps me connect all the dots in my head and can even help me find a solution. But after months of asking for advice, looking for a nugget of wisdom, a truth that was truthier than anything I’d already considered or even a perspective that could show me the way to an answer…I was still lost. I was no closer to an answer to my questions and I was certainly more frustrated and felt isolated from some of the very people I had always leaned on.

If I learned anything in the last year and a half it’s some considerations around giving and receiving advice. I won’t say it’s a how-to guide, but I do think advice givers and advice askers can get a lot out of what I learned…often the hard way.

Advice Giving

  1. Penny for your thoughts?

When it comes to advice giving, it’s pretty easy to end up talking out of your ass or slip into enjoying the sound of your own voice as you deliver sage wisdom. Instead try this: ask the person what kind of advice they want. “Do you want to know what I would do if I were you?” “Do you want me to ask you some questions that I would ask myself first?” “Do you want me to just listen for awhile so you can talk it through?” “Do you want me to challenge you on this?” People need different kinds of advice at different moments in their lives. This week’s welcome advice is next week’s gloating — get clarity first.

2. Strive for clarity with humanity.

Depending on the person, the mood, the situation, your relationship with them…depending on pretty much everything, consider how honest you really want to be, need to be or should be. There’s a fine line between honesty infused with kindness and honesty that says “you’re stupid” or “you’re annoying the shit out of me right now.”

3. Priorities. Get them straight.

People ask for advice when they’re lost, but rarely do they also rattle off their list of top priorities associated with the choice they have to make. When it comes to work, what’s most important right now? Money? Title? Influence? Access to power? Learning opportunity? Work/life balance? See now, that’s a lot of different ways to cut a slice of advice for a person. Same with life. Want a baby? Now? Later? Want a dog? Gonna get married? Gonna get divorced? Sometimes just asking about the many facets from which to approach an issue can prompt the advice receiver to come to the conclusion they needed.

4. Take the blinders off.

What’s that old quote? There’s three sides to every story — yours, mine and the truth? When someone is asking for advice they’re offering their perspective and theirs alone…usually. Call that out. I think it’s always worth noting that there are powers and machinations at play that go well beyond the advice giver’s wisdom and the advice receiver’s perception.

5. You are not me. I am not you.

This one’s pretty simple. Just because my situation sounds a lot like that one time you had something really similar happen does not mean you’re an expert and does not mean I’ll handle it the way you did. This could be a nice moment for empathy, but I am not a blank screen for you to project your…stuff…out on to.

6. Advice vs. Opinions

Advice is guidance or recommendations. Opinions are views or judgements. Know the difference.

Advice Receiving

  1. Perspective is everything.

Have you ever sat in the same room but from two different vantage points? Really different views, huh? Cool, now put yourself in the advice giver’s shoes. The advice you will receive is largely based on that person’s perspective. Are you drowning in debt but asking your friend with all the mula if you should take a job that barely pays? My friend, ask at your own risk. You can’t be too mad or hurt when/if you receive tone deaf advice from a person whose perspective might be limited to their own circumstances.

2. A dream is a wish your heart makes.

People often give advice from a wishful place. They really wish they were in your situation, presented with the choices you have and they really wish they’d have the balls to do what they’re about to tell you to do. Asker, beware. You might get some risky or wistful advice from a well meaning friend that won’t leave you in a great place.

3. Only you know you.

You are the only person who knows everything (like, embarrassingly) about you, your situation or how you will feel after you make your decision. You and you alone will have to deal with the consequences, or joy, of the decision you end up making. At one point earlier this year in a moment of tearful frustration I blurted to my mom, “I feel like you don’t care! You don’t say anything!” And she responded, “Mijita, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m not you.” It was both the most frustrating and honest thing she could have said…and it totally put a stop to my tears. Trust your gut (or learn to). It’s your life’s compass and you’re all you’ve got.

4. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Tell people what you want from them! The quickest route to having your needs met in this conversation is simply telling someone what you need from them. “I need you to listen.” “I’m so confused about this, can you help me figure it out?” “What would you do if you were me?” No one can read your mind. And you can’t get mad when you don’t get what you wanted if you didn’t ask for it in the first place.

5. There is no right…or wrong…

Here’s the thing about advice: sometimes it’s wrong…for you. Even people you love and respect and consider bonafide experts will tell you to do the wrong thing…for you. Trust your gut.

6. The roadblock is you.

Sometimes, and you have to be honest with yourself here…like real, real honest. We are our own worst enemies. No amount of advice in the world could help us take action. What about you, or your circumstances, will stop you from taking the advice you’re being given? If there’s some real shit getting in the way of you taking action (lack of funds, emotionally not prepared, etc.) save yourself and your relationships and stop asking for advice. Maybe get a financial planner or a therapist! There’s ways to get over the hump, but advice ain’t it!

7. Advice vs. Opinions

Advice is guidance or recommendations. Opinions are views or judgements. Know the difference.

At the end of the day, advice can help you move forward or even strengthen the bond between you and the person you’re looking to for it. After a year or so of asking for advice about what was, ostensibly, the same situation moving along at a glacial pace, I got a hell of a lot smarter about asking for advice, who to ask for it and how to use it. Any frustrations I had with friends, family or colleagues melted away after awhile because I realized they were all doing the best they could with minimal information and a very lost me.

Looking back, I didn’t really need to ask for as much advice as I did. I was trying to find justification for what I knew I was going to do all along, I just didn’t want to feel alone in that choice. And guess what? I was totally alone in that choice. I alone feel the joys and frustrations of my choice day in and day out and I don’t have one ounce of regret. I appreciate all the perspectives that were offered, the questions that were asked, the exasperated statements that let me know I was being ridiculous. I appreciate that my friends and family loved me enough to offer it! Repeatedly. For, like, a year. All of this advice…it’s dedicated to their patience.