The Dark Side of Giving Advice That Works

Tim Casasola
Picture credits to Techno Buffalo. What’s good, Christmas 2015.

Have you ever gotten advice when you never asked for it?

We have a really cool idea or ambition and wanted to share it with someone to later find out they’re instantly telling us what to do. Like I appreciate your help, but please understand where I’m coming from first before giving your two cents.

This situation comes to mind because my girlfriend and I recently talked about our stubbornness to take advice from people who give it first before understanding our standpoint. To be fair, research shows our ego gets in the way of taking advice altogether. But with her recently moving to a new city for a job and me with my ambitions of getting a PhD comes with people’s good intentions disguised in unhelpful advice:

  • “Try to live up your last year in college before you start the rest of your life!”
  • “Apply for as many companies as you can and you’ll find something you like.”
  • “Travel for a bit and you’ll find yourself.”

Don’t get me wrong, I crave other perspectives. My stubbornness just comes from the fact that the advice-giver typically gave that advice because they are a) taking it, b) currently taking it, or c) wishing they took it.

We’ve all heard of walking the walk before talking the talk, so I want to focus on one bit of nuance:

Just because the advice worked for you doesn’t mean it’ll work for everyone else.

Online shop Zappos was recently on the media spotlight for implementing a management structure called Holacracy. They’ve been widely critiqued for applying it straight textbook instead of extrapolating aspects of it that would specifically meet their business needs. While it’s debatable if the structure works for them, my point is that even organizations are susceptible to seemingly one-size-fits all solutions.

But you may not be super into self-organization structures, so with my nerdiness aside, let’s talk about this on a more personal level: A lot of us have given advice before listening.

Maybe a friend wanted to share with you their new idea or ambition, and, instead of delving deeper to understand our friend’s situation, you instantly hit them with: “You should do this, that, and this, because that’s how it worked for me.”

I’m guilty of this myself. It’s (im)perfectly human to favor our own opinions.

But let’s not join this dark side of giving advice. Everyone has a different story. Acknowledge that our solutions aren’t the godsend answer to everyone else’s problems. Be insanely curious about the person’s goals. Listen. Giving advice will come secondary.


I also published this on my personal website. Thanks Ariana for our conversation that birthed this piece’s idea.

Tim Casasola

Written by

Product + org development. Product Strategist at Sanctuary Computer. Sometimes a bboy. // timcasasola.com

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