Advice for Those Seeking Advice

Lately, I've had a rash of "I want your advice" calls. These calls are always interesting—if only for the delicate dance that is required.

For example, a woman was recently referred to me by a friend. This woman stated that she wanted my advice. She was interested in starting a marketing company. I listened to her and then started offering suggestions for how she could get started. She proceeded to shoot down every one of my suggestions. No—I can't do that. No—I don't have enough money. No—I live too far away. No—my eyes are blue. Finally, I pointed out that she didn't sound like someone who truly wanted to start a business. I asked, "Are you sure you really want to do this?"

The phone fell silent. Then she unleashed a torrent of negativity: you're no help, I shouldn't have called you, etc. I was a bit startled and wondered what she had expected. She hung up before I could protest, "But you asked for my advice."

What I think she wanted is someone to reinforce her own negative self-talk, not reflect it. Therein lies the tricky part of advice. It's fairly easy to give it and more difficult to receive it. This would-be entrepreneur seemed to have created one reality in her head—she couldn't start a business and really wasn't prepared for someone to say she could. This in turn forced her to question whether that's what she really wanted to do. It seems she wasn't ready to face the answer.

I firmly believe that the answers to our questions are within us. My caller wanted answers but she wasn't ready to listen—to herself. This is a difficulty most of us have and why advice can be so helpful—it clues us into what we're really feeling—not just what we're thinking.

There can often be a big disconnect between the two and recognizing the gap is one of the first steps in facing our own truths. Another way? Ask for some advice. Gauge your reaction—what are you telling you? In the end, what I hope is that when you ask the question, you're ready to hear your answer.

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  • Alicia Morga

    So true Coach! I do (and did) employ that method. At the risk of sounding sexist, I am a woman and I don't naturally leap toward solving the "problem" in conversation; I usually just listen and ask questions. My point is that even when you use the Socratic method, you still encounter folks who really don't want to face what they are learning from you (and they sometimes take it out on you). My unsolicited advice is, if you ask for it, you would do yourself and others a world of good, if you were ready to receive it. You don't have to accept it mind you, but open ears often lead to open pathways.

  • Coach Lowell

    Ahh, the trap of giving advice when someone asks for it. Been there; done that; many times. Lots of leaders fall for that too. It's so seductive, and seemingly quicker, to give the advice and be a hero again. I've found that soft, open questions are more likely to result in the seeker discovering insights of their own which lead to answers that may work. Some examples of questions that move the focus from you to the seeker of answers: "Hmm, what have you tried so far?" Or, "what have you thought about trying?" "What happened when you tried that?" "What did you learn (about yourself?) from that?"
    Those will set the style for future advice seeking meetings. This also teaches the person to think for him or herself, rather than have you do their thinking.
    OMG, I just gave you a whole lot of advice! Never mind.

  • Eden Sterlington

    Hi Alicia,

    I'm glad to know I'm not alone. When I am sought out for my perspective on a particular situation, I can normally come up with something useful. However, I often meet the immediate "I already thought of that" or "I already tried that". When I suggest something different, I hear "I can't do that" or "that doesn't 'fit' me", blah blah blah.

    Your insight is absolutely resonant. Often it isn't the advice that's the problem. It's the requestor's willingness to receive the advice that is important.

    Thanks for sharing,