A colleague of mine, Michelle, was launching her own life coaching business and wanted advice. So I spent some time on the phone with her one quiet Friday afternoon and told her all the things I thought she needed to do to make her offerings more clear, unique, and benefit-oriented. I went through her website, her mission, gave her insight into how to think about content and social media. This, after all, is what I do. And I’m paid well to do it—but for Michelle, I did it as a favor.
She listened intently and while she put up some resistance, she said she knew what I was saying made sense. She had her work cut out of her, but she seemed, at least to me, to understand what she needed to do.
Then a mutual friend of ours told me she had been asked to lunch by Michelle, who wanted to pick her brain about her business. And she told her essentially the same things I had. And then another friend mentioned she, too, had been approached by Michelle, weeks later, and was asked the same set of questions over again. And that, in fact, she hadn’t moved forward on any of what we’d told her.
The Advice Trap
This was when I realized that one of two things was true: One, Michelle was addicted to advice and used it to procrastinate doing anything at all, or two, she didn’t actually want advice, but was seeking approval.
Both scenarios present a serious problem to the business owner, and if you ask me, it was likely a combination of both. And while it’s always a great idea to consult with a set of trusted colleagues and friends, it becomes another thing altogether when you become a professional advice seeker instead of decision maker.
All the information out there does not help, because you will never read all the books and websites and blogs. You will never “finish” the research so that you can come up with the best answer. I’ve done this myself. It’s a writer’s trick—and curse: to keep researching a story instead of writing it. It’s a great way to feel productive without actually doing the hard work of writing the piece.
The advice industry is rich with resources, but also can keep you on a spin cycle of advice consumption so that you become so bloated with ideas and information that you become unable to take a single step.
There’s only so many lunches you can go on, so many retreats and seminars and masterminds you can attend before your head explodes, especially if you’re not doing anything with what you learned. OK, so you went to a Tony Robbins’s event and walked on hot coals and felt you could do anything. Did you?
The other problem you might have if you’re addicted to advice is that you bleed colleagues dry of (often gratis) advice, and act on none of it—which is a waste of both of our time (and I also may be loathe to bother giving you advice again). Maybe you think it conflicts with what you should do. Except that you’re not doing what you should do, either! And so you continue to mine for insights, at great expense in time and often money, except instead of seeking an aha! moment, you’re hoping someone will bless what you’ve done and relieve you of having to push harder or change anything. And that’s a problem. Because asking advice “feels” productive, but it’s only productive if it helps you enact real change and challenge your own presumptions in your business.
Daniel Digriz, creator madpipe.com, a marketing consultant and one of the most intelligent, insightful people I’ve met, had this to say about advice that challenges what you think: “If you dismiss anyone who doesn’t agree with you, then you can never improve or learn, because what you’re saying is there can’t be anyone who’s smart who also disagrees with you.” Doesn’t mean you have to take everyone’s advice. But at least know why you’re asking, and be willing to question what you’re doing as a result.
There is no point in asking advice if you don’t let it inform, if not transform, what you’re doing, and I’m talking business, but life, too (how many friends have to tell you you deserve better than the person you’re dating before you believe them?). Note that moment of defensiveness, that nervy twitch that happens when you resist or dismiss an idea. And ask yourself, why, then, were you asking in the first place?
Here are a few questions to ask yourself so that you can get clear about why you’re asking so you can move forward. They only help if you’re really honest.
What to ask yourself before you seek out the advice
The act of writing out the answers to these questions makes them clear as day and hard to ignore, and will change the way you go into the meeting or event. It keeps you from falling under the spell of advice, thinking that just being around it will make you successful (it won’t).
- What am I seeking advice about, specifically?
- Why now?
- Why am I asking this particular person for this particular advice?
- What am I hoping to learn? Is it something different or new, or the same thing?
- What am I afraid to hear?
- What will I do if I don’t agree with what I hear?
- Am I willing to follow advice if it conflicts with what I think?
- What would happen if I did?
What to ask yourself after you’ve sought advice
Next, write out the answers to these questions so that you can do an honest evaluation of what you’ve heard and what you’ll do next.
- What did I learn that was new?
- What was familiar (and why haven’t I done it yet?)
- How did hearing another’s insights make me feel (i.e., resistant, upset, confused, relieved)?
- Why do I feel this way? (Be honest!)
- How did I feel later, say a day after I talked to this person or attended this event?
- What would happen if I put one of the ideas I learned into action?
- Why will I, or won’t I?
- Do I feel greater pleasure when I ask for advice, or when I receive it?
…That last question is key, because if you recognize that you feel optimistic or productive when in the process of asking for advice, but not after you receive it—and this is a pattern for you—then you are stuck in an advice-seeking cycle.
The fact is, advice seeking should be a process that energizes and focuses you. It can’t be this for you if you ask a zillion people and act on none of it. Be honest about what you’re looking for, and recognize, too, that advice in itself is worth nothing at all if it doesn’t inform and inspire your next step.