Yesterday at a dinner party someone heard me describe my work and started giving me advice. It sounded like something that would take resources to act on and it didn’t sound better than what I was already doing.
I politely told him so many people offer me advice, I find the only advice worthwhile is when the person offers a contact where everyone would benefit from the connection. He didn’t seem to have contacts, so I think he was talking less to help and more to make himself feel good, hoping for future credit as the genius who made things work without people noticing he didn’t do any work.
Advice I ignore
People like to give advice and a lot of it is a waste of time just to hear, let alone act on.
They hear what you’re working on and, as if you didn’t know what you were doing, or as if you asked for their advice, they start with, “You know what you should do, you should …”
They have this feeling they’re helping you, but if they examined their thoughts more carefully, they’d realize that urge to help came with a few assumptions, for example that
- They know your job better than you do
- You aren’t already doing it
- You didn’t already think of it
- Their idea is better than anything you came up with
- You have time or other resources to do it
- you’ll like the idea
… you get the idea.
At the root, they put their interest to participate before your interests. Only they aren’t participating. They’re giving you work, trying to mess with your priorities, and using your resources, expecting to take some credit later for the genius of coming up with the idea.
They’re both meddling and feeling reward—a scary combination because it reinforces doing it more.
You can tell giving advice is easy and typically worthless by asking them if they’d like you to give them advice on how to do their job better, which, no matter how politely you ask, they’ll never accept. If they want your advice, they’ll ask for it, but that doesn’t stop many people from giving theirs without affording others that courtesy they’d want themselves.
If you feel compelled to offer unsolicited advice, try at least to ask first something like, “I have an idea how you could do that. Do you have a handle on it or are you open to advice?”
(In all fairness, I listen to the advice first. Rarely someone offers something helpful.)
Advice I take
I make an exception for one type of advice.
If someone volunteers their time or resources to contribute to the advice, then I consider taking the advice. I nearly always accept when someone offers a connection to someone who can help. I generally take this advice before money, since money often implies obligation, while offering a connection puts their reputation on the line, which means they’ve offered value and have something to lose.