People Don’t Want to Be Blamed for Giving Bad Advice

Sometimes, when facing a hard decision in our career or in a relationship, we just want someone to tell us what to do. Or, if not tell us exactly what to do, at least to proactively assert ideas for what we may want to do.

But you’ll find that thoughtful advice-givers are sometimes reticent to proactively assert very much. Rather, they ask, “What do you want to do? What are you passionate about?” Then, once you express a preference, they figure out how they can help you realize your goal. Based on your existing inclinations, they’ll amplify what they see are the important things to keep in mind.

Why is this? One perhaps a non-obvious reason: People don’t want to be blamed if something goes wrong. If a person gets you thinking that the right move in life is to backpack around Asia for two months, or accept job XYZ, or go to grad school, and it doesn’t work out — you may (if unconsciously) blame them.

So if you ask for blue sky feedback — open ended advice on what you should do in your life  — be aware of risk aversion on the part of the advice giver, and perhaps make it easier for them by saying something like  “Don’t worry, I’m going to own this decision, be completely honest and throw out any idea that comes you.”

But, really, even with this qualifier, the open ended advice conversations like this only work if you know the other person really well and vice versa. In a majority of cases, proposing specific ideas and asking for specific reactions works best…

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David Cohen recently posted about asking for introductions, and encouraged people to not ask him blue sky questions like, “Know any good investors for our company” but rather to request introductions to specific people. When you request an intro to a specific person, David can…

explain to [the person he’s introducing you to] that YOU thought of HIM for a specific reason, and are requesting that I introduce you to him. In this case, I’m merely facilitating an introduction that you requested. Socially, it’s pretty much expected of me that I would do this, and doing it as a double-opt in literally has no “cost” in terms of social currency associated with it.

In other words, there’s less downside risk to David if the meeting goes poorly. You asked for it; he just facilitated. Had HE been the one to suggest meeting a certain person, and the meeting goes poorly, he takes some of the blame. He’d quite understandably rather you request and he enable, instead of dreaming up who would be the best person to meet. Same principle as I discussed above.

But, it can be helpful when someone proactively recommends meeting someone you didn’t previously know about it. I’m sure David does this for close allies. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know…and you don’t know who you don’t know!

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