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Tim Berry on business planning, starting and growing your business, and having a life in the meantime.

2 Essential Rules for Giving and Getting Advice

Advice is a part of life. Smart people listen to advice, think about it, and decide later for themselves. I’ve been on both sides of the advice exchange as much as anybody, as a son, father, and grandfather, sure; but also as a business employee, a business founder, owner, and manager. And as a so-called expert, teacher, writer, blogger, and ask-the-expert answerer.

Having dealt with this for several decades, I think there are two absolutely essential rules for dealing with advice. This includes business and personal advice.

1. Give advice like you give a gift.

giftYou choose the gift, wrap it up, and present it to somebody. After you do, it’s theirs. You don’t stand over them to make sure they use it, right? Can you give advice without investing yourself in whether or not it’s taken?

Once you give the advice, let it go. Let the recipient decide what to do with it. With gift giving, ownership changes hands. So too with advice giving. You don’t own it. You don’t care what the receiver does with it. If you do care, then it wasn’t really advice, and it wasn’t really a gift.

Don’t follow up. Don’t ask the advice recipient what happened next. Let it go.

2. Receive advice like a gift.

Don’t we teach children to say thank you and, whether or not they like the gift, to pretend they love it? We say: “That’s just what I always wanted.” We don’t say “that’s the last thing I needed. I can’t use it.”

But how often do people react to the gift of advice by making it clear they didn’t need it? I do it, too. It seems to be some kind of negative instinct. Sure, you know everything, I understand. I do too. But is there a chance that somebody, someday, might be able to offer you something useful? Better to stay open to the possibility, right?

Instead of rushing to show how useless that advice was, if you don’t like or want or need or want to use the advice you’re given, act as if it were a gift. Put it aside for the moment as if you value it, and then let it go. Better yet, you open your eyes, think about it, and then make your own decision. Base it on the merits.

If you don’t follow that advice, don’t mention it again. If the giver asks, explain that you valued it and thought about it thoroughly and finally adapted it to your exact situation. And thank them again.

(Image: Tanya len/Shutterstock)

6 responses to “2 Essential Rules for Giving and Getting Advice”

  1. […] underlying problem, much more general than Mike’s specific issue, is quite common: Good advice makes bad things happen. Business, like life itself, is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Every case is different. What […]

  2. kris says:

    How does one deal with advice that is given with intent to benefit the provider of the advice itself? … If that makes any sense, hehe. Those who wish to know the experienced situation/story can email me.

    thanks.

    • Tim Berry says:

      Kris, I say that self-serving suggestions should be presented as that, and not disguised as advice. It’s a matter of honesty. I can think of lots of scenarios in which the self-serving suggestion is also good for the recipient, but it’s dishonest to pretend it’s advice.

  3. Brian Miner says:

    Tim,
    Thanks for the re-inforcing email. Back about 15 years-or-so ago, during the whoe TQM craze, we had a company “TQM” day and one particular group presented on the topic of complaints. They said, and I quote, “A complaint is a gift”. So in this case a complaint vs. advice. They went on with a few examples, with the one sticking in my mind about customer complaints. If a customer leaves you or a vendor stops doing business with you, often you don’t know why. But if they complain and/or leave feedback BEFORE leaving, that’s there gift to you to realize there’s a problem, address it, and hopefully retain that customer or keep that vendor relationship healthy. I’ve heard the quote before, “…no-one can hear a silent scream”. I think that’s a little food for thought as well.

  4. Thealzel Lee says:

    Great advice. Works for parenting too – if I can remember in the heat of my “discussions” with my sons (ages 19, 21 and 22)! Thanks.

  5. Dennis Baker says:

    Very well said – I really like the Gift analogy.

    We’re all the smartest guys in the room aren’t we. We get good training for this in our teenage years when Surely we know everything…

    If we focus on Learning and hold open the possibility that someone else just possibly has had an experience that we have not, why then we just might learn something today…..

    • Tim Berry says:

      Thanks Dennis, you just made me laugh (whoops, I should have said LOL) … and good training as well when our kids are teenagers and we surely know nothing. Tim

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