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"There is nothing we receive with so much reluctance as advice. - Joseph Addison

Has anyone ever asked you for advice, only to turn around and do the exact opposite as what you suggested? Advice can be tricky - whether you're asking or receiving. The reason why is simple: our egos. It is our egos that make us think an advice giver is an arrogant know-it-all and an advice seeker is ungrateful.

However, seeking and giving advice in the workplace are critical if you want to develop effective leadership skills. Those who are truly open to guidance develop better solutions to problems than they would have on their own. Despite what we may like to think about ourselves, the fact that we are leaders does not qualify us to dispense advice on all matters. Everyone needs to seek the counsel of others while navigating our daily business life. Giving and receiving advice is a bit of an art form, and whether someone is offering advice to you or you are the one providing guidance, you will become more effective as a leader if you check your ego at the door.

Seeking Advice Like A Boss

Great leaders know they do not know everything. They are able to take a step back and say to themselves, "I need some guidance, here." They seek out someone they trust; who has walked a similar path, and ask for advice. Things can go awry, however - even for great leaders - when it comes time to do the actual asking.

Have you ever asked for someone's advice and then, as they begin talking you are instantly sorry that you asked? Yeah. It's happened to all of us. But whose fault is that? Is it them...or is it you? A lot of times, it's you.

Our personal feelings and our pride often hamper our ability to receive advice without taking it personally. Many times, we ask advice not to receive an honest answer, but rather to validate our own feelings. When we don't get that, we become annoyed and we can project negative feelings onto the very person we asked for input.

If you want to learn to seek (and accept) advice like a pro, be sure to watch out for these common pitfalls:

  • Thinking you know the answer - You don't, or you wouldn't be asking for advice.
  • Choosing the wrong advisors - You probably wouldn't ask Donald Trump for advice on sensitivity or fashionable hairstyles, but you might seek his counsel on deal-making or scoring television ratings. Select advisors with true expertise in specific subject matters.
  • Defining the problem poorly - If you don't describe your problem well, your advisor cannot provide appropriate, actionable advice.
  • Discounting advice - Don't ask if you aren't going to take the answer under advisement. Your advisor will think twice about helping you again if you've discounted their advice in the past.
  • Misjudging the quality of advice - Advice may, at times, seem incomplete, or even wrong. Remember, you aren't an expert or you wouldn't need advisement in the first place.

The key to accepting great advice doesn't necessarily lie with the advisor. You have to make solid choices when seeking guidance, and you must be able to articulate your problem and be ready to take action. But most importantly, you must be prepared not to hear the answer you want and you must accept that answer with grace.

Offering Advice That's Likely To Be Accepted

It makes you feel good when a colleague or employee seeks your advice on a problem, doesn't it? But don't let that good feeling go to your head. Your job as an advisor is to focus on the issue at hand, and focus on the person asking for help, not to prove that you are the smartest person in the room.

When advising others, be sure to watch out for these ego-driven obstacles that can prevent your advice from being heard:

  • Overstepping boundaries - Unsolicited advice is rarely welcomed or accepted. You can also overstep boundaries by offering advice on subjects on which you are not qualified. Stick to the scope of the problem and don't deviate.
  • Misdiagnosing the problem - Make sure to ask the advisee lots of questions to drill down to the real issue. If you don't fully understand the problem, you can't offer strong advice.
  • Offering self-centered guidance - "If I were in your situation I would do X, Y and Z," is a common opener for advice, but it's actually ineffective. While this may seem like an empathetic approach, it can often be off-putting to the recipient. They are not asking what you, with your skill sets, would do. They are asking what they, with their skill sets, should do. What's possible for you may not be possible for them.
  • Communicating advice poorly - Vague advice, jargon-laden advice, or an overwhelming information dump can confuse your advisee and lead them to take the wrong action- or no action at all. Be clear, yet concise, and speak in plain terms.
  • Mishandling the aftermath - If your advisee doesn't follow your advice to the letter, of if they mishandle their action, it's easy to become offended. Don't let that offense cloud future interactions or damage the relationship. Remember, it's up to them to conduct the follow through and the consequences of their actions lay upon their own feet.

Giving advice can be just as tricky as receiving advice. Approach each situation objectively to prevent yourself from coming off like a know-it-all.

Advice Doesn't Equal "All The Answers"

When it comes to advisement, you don't always have to leave the interaction having given or received all of the answers. Advice can take many forms including: acting as a sounding board, testing out a potential path, expanding a frame of reference, offering process guidance or generating substantive ideas.

Use these five steps as a guide for both giving and seeking advice without letting your ego get in your way:

  1. Finding the right fit - If you are seeking advice, choose your advisors wisely. If you are giving advice, make sure you have the time and expertise to address the situation. If not, point the person in the direction of someone who may be a better fit.
  2. Developing a shared understanding - When asking for advice in the workplace, lay out your problem clearly, providing detail while making sure to offer only information related to the issue. If you are offering advice, clear enough time to help and ask as many questions as possible to get to the heart of the matter.
  3. Crafting alternatives - Ask questions of one another to ensure you've got a full understanding of options, approaches and processes.
  4. Converging on a decision - Together, evaluate all options. Advisors, don't make a decision for the advisee. Receivers, don't lay responsibility at the feet of your advisor.
  5. Putting advice into action - After accepting advice, take action and then report back to your advisor to let them know how things went. Advisors should check back in and offer continuing support if necessary.

Giving and receiving advice in the workplace is a fact in business life - and it is necessary if you want to grow as a leader. Just make sure you keep your ego in check no matter which side of the conversation you're on.


Larry Hart

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