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Giving and Taking Advice
04.13.11

 

Oddly, one of the things I do nowadays is dispense a fair amount of advice. Some of it is in an official capacity (I work as an advisor to a couple of tech startups) and some of it is unofficially -- typically with more startups and also with non-profits. The occasional random person asks me about stuff sometimes too -- but that stuff is probably no different than most people. (and sometimes people ask for my advice when in reality they actually are more interested in getting me to introduce them to someone or something else or even to invest in something -- that's totally fine but I would rather they just ask me straight out for that)
 
Earlier today, I was taking advice from someone. It was an interesting dynamic because when it happened, I literally told myself, "Ok - time to take advice. Be good at taking advice." 
 
Now, admittedly, I'm not always the best at taking advice. My parents surely will attest to this and I've actually spent a lot of time reflecting on this. After much reflection, I've realized something. I actually am great at taking advice. Here's the caveat. I'm great at taking advice when I want advice. I'm terrible at taking advice when I don't want advice. I suspect this is true for most people and I've tried to do the same. I try not to give unsolicited advice (though I probably fail often at this) and even when someone (or an organization) wants to meet with me -- I try to carefully understand what it is they want to talk about. I often will even say something like, "How can I be helpful?" -- just so that it's clear to both of us what it is they want to talk about. Unfortunately, a bad habit of mine is when I get excited about a topic I have some experience with, I get too excited about giving advice (very bad!)
 
So I suppose the question I'm wrestling with in this post is should I be better at taking advice more broadly? I've noticed that when I have a problem / issue to solve / etc. -- I seem to actually go to pretty great lengths to try and solve it (and find the people most knowledgable about it, etc.) I tend to think I'm quite open to thoughts in that case because frankly, I don't know the solution -- that's why I'm asking! The question is those other times. In some situations, I may have a strong opinion about something -- and I'm not looking for more information. In other cases, advice is completely unsolicited and that's usually tiresome. (but sometimes quite useful if the person is careful in how they present it.) In some cases, I probably could really use the advice but I'm not mentally prepared to take it in at that point. I think the latter case is the case for me to be particularly wary of. Because that's a case where I probably know on some logical level that the person has a lot to say, what's being said is really good -- but for whatever reason (probably ego, pride, etc.) -- I'm not being receptive to it.
 
I don't want to chalk up a situation like that to, "You're open to things when you're open to it." -- but on some level that's true. This is not particularly insightful -- but I think the way I've dealt with it is to try and be honest with myself about it. I go home and say, "I wasn't receptive to that because of [     ]. Are you ok with that?" The answer, sometimes, is "Yes." It's the times that it's "No." -- and then I think, "Ok -- what's the disconnect there and what do I need to work on?"

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