The delicate art of advising and being advised

a.k.a. don’t blindly accept the advice you are given

This post is based on a NaBloPoMo prompt: Do you prefer to take advice from strangers or from people close to you?

Before answering this prompt, I decided to focus on a few questions to consider. I tried to think in general terms and distance myself from my current issues, which explains the use of “you” instead of “I” in many sentences. Don’t go thinking that I am trying to make a guide on advice taking!

Why is that person giving you advice?

  • Did you ask for it?
  • Did they feel like they had to?
  • Did they recognise one of their issues in yours?

Depending on your mood, how busy you are, your location, etc. you may not be open to discussing an issue close to your heart or ready to receive advice, whether from a stranger or from someone you know well. In fact, being given advice when you don’t want to might cause you to reject the other person’s suggestions altogether, no matter how much sense they make or how helpful they may be. As a stubborn, temperamental person, I tend to react that way when receiving unsolicited advice, which is a real shame.

Whether or not you asked for it, people may feel compelled to give you advice because you look like you really need some. They may genuinely care about you and want to help, or genuinely want to get rid of you and your annoying questions. Unfortunately, regardless of their intentions, their “forced” advice may not always be in your best interests. They might have given you the exact piece of advice you needed to make progress, or a ready-made answer that will only make things worse.

Finally, it is important to determine which situation they have in mind: yours, or theirs? It is completely normal for someone to feel like your situation mirrors their own and to advise you based on what they went or are going through themselves, but the parameters of their situation may be very different from yours. Some problems may be universal and have one-size-fits-all solutions, but it isn’t always the case, so make sure their advice makes sense when it comes to your specific issue as well.

Should that person really advise you?

  • How well does that person know you?
  • How well does that person know your situation?
  • Is that person qualified to advise you?

Sometimes, the people who know you best give the best advice; other times, you need a new person to provide a fresh perspective on your situation. Friends and relatives may be aware of patterns in your behaviour that may play an important part in your issue, but the distance enjoyed by strangers who don’t know you may also come in handy.

Moreover, the best piece of advice is sometimes the one you don’t want to hear: you may already know how you should proceed but refuse to do it for fear of the consequences. The people closest to you may be reluctant to give you an honest opinion that might hurt your feelings, while strangers who don’t care about you may speak more freely.

Finally, you need to consider the person’s expertise: have they been through, or helped someone go through, the same things as you are? Are they speaking from experience or extensive knowledge of the type of issue you are facing? If not, is there anything that qualifies them to advise you? Do they at least sound like they know what they are talking about?

As much as I love my boyfriend, I tend to disregard his advice when it comes to my job on the grounds that we have completely different careers and he couldn’t possibly understand how things work with freelancers in the translation industry. I may be completely wrong – useful advice can come from any source and he has probably made some very good points over the years – but I just can’t take his advice seriously.

How does this person make you feel?

  • Do you trust them?
  • Do you admire them?
  • Do you want to please them?

Your relationship with them or the way they make you feel may have an impact on the way you consider their advice. If you don’t like them or feel comfortable around them, for instance, you may be tempted to disregard their advice entirely. On the other hand, advice coming from people you love or admire may have more weight. You need to consider this before you reject their advice or follow them blindly: just because you trust them doesn’t mean they are right, and vice versa.

For instance, given our complex relationship, I consistently reject my mother’s advice, no matter how sensible or useful, while I tend to value the opinion of people from my industry, such as former employers, experienced translators, or any successful freelancer. I don’t think I would ever take someone’s advice over someone else’s just to please them, but I can understand how one might value their boss’s not-so-good opinion over their neighbour’s sensible advice.

The heart of the matter

To answer the prompt, I think I prefer not to take any advice from anyone. Being mostly surrounded by people my own age, many of whom live very different lives than my own, I don’t feel like any of us has enough life experience or enough in common to advise each other on most issues. Also, being stubborn, I would rather try to figure everything on my own anyway.

As I don’t have close ties with my family, I never ask for their help and wouldn’t feel comfortable asking for their advice, so I can’t take advantage of my uncles’, aunts’ and cousin’s varied experience. Finally, I don’t like talking to strangers in general, let alone about my issues – especially those of a personal nature – so I am unlikely to receive advice from strangers.

The heart of the matter, I believe, is that many people (myself included) tend to keep their problems to themselves, either because they don’t think it is anyone’s business or for fear of being judged. We pretend everything is OK, and when someone notices that it isn’t the case, we claim that we are working on it and refuse any helping hand – whether from a stranger or from a friend.

This is part of the reason why I started this blog. I felt ready to face my issues and write about them, although anonymously, and ready to take that helping hand. I am counting on my self-monitoring project to help me identify them more clearly and motivate me to work on them.

If you are facing an issue that you can’t tell your friends and family about, or if you feel like their advice isn’t sufficient, I encourage you to seek help elsewhere. Just make sure you are prepared to receive it – and to make sure it is appropriate to your situation.

Featured image: advice for the bride and groom by @aerial_m on Flickr, resized and cropped by me.

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2 thoughts on “The delicate art of advising and being advised

  1. Pingback: 5 mistakes I made last month that you should avoid | Keeping Track

  2. Pingback: New to the neighbourhood – First-week NaBloPoMo roundup | Keeping Track

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