What qualifies us to give advice to others? And who should we take advice from? With unsolicited opinions constantly on offer, it’s an important thing to figure out!
I’ll listen to almost everybody, but I’ll proactively seek ‘life advice’ from two kinds of people: family and friends that know me extremely well, and people who have gained expertise in something that I aspire to do.
However, even advice from these people is inherently limited. Which is why I’ll also consult the third and most important person to take advice from – me. Because at the end of the day, I know my needs better than anyone.
Here’s a run down of how to take advice and who from, based on my tried and tested experience.
The first type of person whose advice I seek out is certain family members and friends who know me extremely well.
The obvious reason I seek advice from these people is that they are there. They are physically available to me.
However, they are also in the unique position of knowing both where I’ve come from and where I am trying to get to. They’ll offer angles on my dilemmas I hadn’t thought about. Family members and partners are especially valuable, as unlike many of our friends, they’re more brazen and will risk offending you (this is a good thing).
Often, I consult with them and decide not to take their advice. That’s because despite their clear advantages as advice-givers, what they tell me is still influenced by their life experiences as well as their relationship to me.
As I write this, I’m thinking of my parents, who both give great advice generally, but whose guidance is used a rough mark, rather than something to live by.
Some people have that piece of life figured that you don’t yet, whether that’s in the realm of work or relationships. This is the second category of person to take advice from.
When I wanted to write a book, I sought out the advice of people who had written a book. Now that I am considering making a career change, I’m looking to talk to people who are in the career that I am thinking of transitioning into, for their insights.
A person who falls into this category doesn’t have to have a proven track record in anything before I’ll listen to them.
I’m most interested in hearing from people who are honest with themselves and reflect on their experiences with wisdom, even if they’ve not had much objective success.
‘High quality actionable advice’
Author Michael Hyatt prefers to see some objective success from those he’ll take advice from. He said in his article The Kind of People Never to Take Advice from: “Never take advice from people who aren’t getting the results you want to experience. If you don’t like what you see in the life of the messenger, it’s usually best to ignore the message.” He has a whole process he uses when he wants ‘high quality actionable advice’:
- Identify someone who is getting the results you want.
- Study what they are doing and see if a system emerges.
- Replicate it exactly.
- Try to meet with them.
- Get a peer group together.
This would be an effective way to get results in something specific and measurable: a goal such as losing weight for example.
Often our challenges and goals have a personal element to them. For these things, it’s better to “take what works and leave the rest.” Other people can help you to frame your problem or expose a shortcoming in your plan, but you are going to need to help yourself out too.
Being clear about what you want
When asking for advice from ‘experts’, it’s important to be clear on what you are trying to achieve.
I made an expensive mistake recently when I booked onto a personal development course, hoping vaguely to improve myself. But because I didn’t have something clear I wanted to get, I didn’t receive value from it.
Aimlessly reading or following advice on ‘how to be happy’ is also an unwise use of the time. You can’t take other people’s advice on how to be happier, as what makes them happier might not make you happy.
The Glaringly Obvious Third Person to Take Advice from
The advice so far in this article has been focused on the quality of the speaker and what makes them qualified to advise you.
But what qualifies you to hear, and act upon, great advice? Or ask better questions? It all comes back to how well you know yourself.
Who are you (do you even know)? Can you easily tell me what your needs are for stimulation versus quiet time, what your favorite experiences are, what qualities you looks for in the people around you – your ideal work?
I built my self-awareness through the process I map out in my book. You can also try taking personality tests, such as the Enneagram and Myers Briggs which I have found to be beneficial on sussing out my hidden motivations.
Sometimes we over-rely on external sources of advice when it’s time to do a bit of values clarification ourselves. Ella Banks from the Art of Charm suggests this simple 30-60 minute exercise for anyone trying to figure out what a suitable career is for them:
- Imagine your ideal lifestyle by walking through a typical Tuesday, from the time and place you wake up to the time and place you go to sleep.
- Examine each of its characteristics. Do you have job security? Do you have an impressive job title to blow away your friends? Are you physically active from 12pm to 2pm?
- For each characteristic, ask yourself, Why do I want that?
- Keep asking Why? over and over again. Maybe you’ll find that you want to exercise from 12pm to 2pm because you just like exercise. But maybe you’ll find that it’s because you’re afraid of poor health in old age, and long-term security and comfort is actually a top priority for you.
Learning to receive
You also have to be capable of receiving advice. This means getting off your defensive position, and learning to listen to people without taking what they say too personally.
Constantly scan your attitude for evidence of a fixed mentality versus a growth mentality. Learn through mindfulness to observe your emotional reactions to things. (Want to figure out your confrontation/criticism handling style? Read this).
If someone who loves you and has your best interests at heart points out something harsh to you, are you curious or upset/angry? Migrating over to the former category has been key for me.
So that’s it: my unsolicited advice about who to take advice from.
Take it or leave it, obviously.