Mothers are famous for giving advice and sometimes we need it – especially when we’re about to leave the house.
As an adult, who do you go to when you need advice? Giving and getting good advice can definitely help the decision making process, but too often we go to the wrong people for advice or we leave it too late to get advice. We mainly seek out advice in times of confusion or stress, but perhaps we wouldn’t have gotten into strife, had we sought out advice earlier!
The truth is that giving and seeking advice is a practical skill, and like any skill it can be improved. Too often people give and seek advice for the wrong reasons. Sometimes a person will come to you looking for advice, but they have already made their decision and only want you to validate their choice. If you don’t do this, they may even become angry with you. Sometimes people are too willing to offer advice but they are not really trying to help. They just want to appear important and knowledgeable. They are offering advice as a form of ego stroking.
Getting the wrong advice can cause a great deal of pain. It can also lead to frustration, fraught relationships and stunted personal and professional growth. But getting the right advice can help us see our blind spots, face our prejudices and discover the flaws in our logic.
In this article, I’m going to examine the best way to seek out sage advice.
Not Realising We Need Advice
The first problem individuals usually face in decision making is not realising that they need advice! People put too much store in their own judgment. They are convinced they have made the right choice and will not ask for a second opinion. Or they pretend to seek advice but they have already made their decision and are only seeking validation. Sometimes they are even looking to be praised for their wise decision making. I’m afraid that men are much more likely to do this than women. Research shows that men are always more confident in their decision making than women – even if they are wildly off the mark! A study by Wiebke Bleidorn from the University of California found that men have a much stronger belief in their own abilities than women. The eight-year study by Bleidorn analysed data from over 985,000 men and women across 48 countries, and discovered that regardless of culture or country, men have higher self-esteem and self-belief than women. Men are just more confident in their decision making abilities. What was even more surprising is that in industrialized Western countries, like America and Australia, which gave rise to the feminist movement, the gap between male and female self-confidence is greater than in non-Western, developing countries. So, men in western countries are much more unlikely to seek advice before making a crucial decision than women.
Turning to Like-minded People for Advice
Another key mistake advice seekers make is turning to like-minded advisers. David Garvin and Joshua Margolis, from the Harvard School of Business, wrote a paper on decision making. They found that “CEOs at companies with poor financials were more likely than CEOs at high-performing firms to seek advice from executives in the same industry and with a similar functional background.” This means that instead of seeking out an array of diverse opinions and unique insights, under-performing CEOs are trapped in echo chambers. They approach “mini-me’s” – people who share similar thoughts, values, and background in terms of ethnicity and class. Perhaps that is one of the reasons people feel so frustrated about the major political parties in Australia. Parliamentarians do not truly reflect the diversity of Australia. The current cabinet contains only five women out of 22 members and three-quarters of the MPs are from private schools. Is our prime minister also turning to like-minded advisers? Clever advice seekers must consider going to people with life experiences different to their own. They need to think about approaching people of different gender, age, class and ethnicity who can offer new and invaluable insights. They need to seek out people who see the problem at hand in a totally new light and offer fresh solutions.
Not Providing Enough Details
Garvin and Margolis in their Harvard Business School paper argue that the next problem in seeking advice is that the advice seeker fails to properly explain the problem and all of its intricacies. Important information is left out. Consequently the solutions offered may not be totally appropriate. If you are seeking advice consider writing down the problem on paper and list as many details as possible so the person you’re seeking counsel from, really understands what you are up against.
Discounting the Advice Given
The next mistake is discounting the advice given. Garvin and Margolis argue that “individuals in powerful positions are the worst offenders. According to one experimental study, they feel competitive when they receive advice from experts”. The authors also found that too often, advice seekers dismiss the best advice if it is unconventional or comes from people they don’t always see eye-to-eye with. Basically when making a decision it pays to get advice from someone who has different strengths and qualities to you. They are more likely to see a weakness in your logic or an alternate solution, but then, because this individual is not like us, we are reluctant to follow their advice. In a way we trap ourselves in echo chambers by refusing to take advice from someone we perceive as unconventional.
If you have to make a big decision, and need some advice be careful not to fall into these traps. First be open to looking for advice from people who have different strengths and weaknesses to your own. Be sure you communicate the problem and all the related intricacies. Next, carefully study the advice. Your first instinct may be to dismiss it, but don’t. Look at it logically. Maybe even revisit the advice over a few days. Could this solution actually work?
People who are genuinely open to good advice come up with better solutions to problems. The fresh advice enriches their thinking process. It helps them overcome blind spots and biases and ultimately leads to success.