If I Were You…The Giving and Receiving of Advice

The Silicon Valley Junto, a discussion society Chris Yeh and I run where we bring together friends over lunch about once a quarter, convened today in Menlo Park for the topic:
If I Were You…Advice Giving, Advice Receiving, and the Best/Worst Advice You Ever Got. We were inspired by this Fortune magazine feature where various CEOs answered this question.

Our lively and stimulating discussion covered several bases on the topic of advice. Here are some notes:

  • When you give advice, give the person options, and let them choose the best path. People hate to be told what to do — need to make them feel empowered to make the decision for themselves.
  • The quality of the advice — that is, whether the advice could be considered good or bad — is not necessarily connected to the ultimate consequences of following the advice. For example, if you advise someone to invest their money prudently in the stock market, and instead they liquidate all savings and buy lottery tickets, and win the lottery, did you offer bad advice? Can the quality of advice be judged based on the results that ensue from following it?
  • When giving advice, include the word "because" — it increases eventual absorption, regardless of what you say after the word "because."
  • Are advice givers’ primarily concerned about the advice-receiver following through on the advice? Usually. Usually the you want to frame your advice in a way that will best inspire action and a change in behavior. But sometimes the advice giver doesn’t have this objective; sometimes he just wants to feel superior, etc.
  • Remember four things when giving advice:
    • The role and responsibilities of the person on the other side of the table. See the situation from their perspective.
    • Your intentions — keep them pure
    • The delivery itself — focus on tone and spirit in which advice is delivered. This is crucial.
    • Summary — close off the interaction, make sure everyone is on the same page. Whether it’s a one minute conversation or four hour meeting, get some closure and action items.
  • Much of advice giving and receiving is just good communication tactics and good sales techniques.
  • When you seek advice, should you consult the domain expert or someone who knows you best? Your mother may know you best but she may not know the industry you’re considering going in to. Domain expert knows the market but doesn’t know your individual differences.
    • Get advice first from the domain expert to get a model and assess your choices. Then consult the person who really knows you to understand which choice makes most sense for you.
  • When you give advice, it’s easy to fan the embers but hard to strike a new fire. So listen carefully to their situation and find some aspect of it that you can build upon and emphasize. This will result in best outcome, rather than trying to instill an entirely new idea or some concept that’s not already part of their framework. [BC: This is very insightful.]
  • Actionable advice is best advice. Saying "speak up more" to someone who doesn’t talk in meetings is not actionable; saying "say at least three things in the meeting" is more clearly actionable.
  • The advice giver can be changed when he gives advice. That is, even though he’s doling out suggestions to someone else, that process can change the person usually for the better.
  • People who are "unconsciously competent" are not the best people to ask for advice. True experts often can’t explain what they’re doing and why.
  • Good advice givers have self-knowledge. They know their own biases and discount them before giving advice.

Related Posts:

– We overvalue advice when the situation is hard, undervalue advice when situation / problem is easy
– You can’t give advice until you’ve thoroughly acknowledged you understand how busy the other person is
– More general thoughts on the topic of advice, including "sometimes people ask for advice but what they really want is your attention."
– Even when someone discloses their bias before giving advice, we still don’t discount the advice enough. Say our mechanic tells us we need to buy some repairs. Clearly he’s biased but we tend to forget about the bias.
How to be a good mentee — be good at asking for and taking advice.

5 Responses to If I Were You…The Giving and Receiving of Advice

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *