Instead of Advice

Too much advice is misleading. It’s too often based on incomplete information, incorrect assumptions, or irrelevant experience. Even if it’s helpful, on another level it can make the receiver feel less confident and more dependent on the advice giver.

Whether you give it or get it, advice is too often much less worthwhile than you may believe.

That’s why, instead of participating in any part of the conventional “advice dance”, you should more often seek or provide appropriate questions.

Here’s more detail:

When You Ask for Advice

A person asking for advice is often seeking support or guidance in a situation that seems too complicated, difficult, or important to handle on his or her own. S/he ducks whatever responsibilities may exist and reaches out to someone with previous experience, better credentials, or more confidence regarding what to do.

But advice is not always widely applicable. Even simple, relatively routine situations can be markedly different from seemingly similar events that happened before. The discrepancies often revolve around or incorporate different:

  • Contexts and cultural factors,
  • Urgency and chronological considerations,
  • Rules and requirements,
  • People,

and more.

These differences may be small or may be large, but they can easily outweigh any number of surface similarities. Like people, situations are largely unique.

When You Give Advice

A person giving advice is making a leap of faith that s/he understands the situation as well or better than the person asking. By giving advice, you are almost always valuing your own perceptions and choices more highly than the other person’s – a stance that may not be warranted, particularly if you are coming relatively new to the situation.

From a certain point of view, it’s obvious that offering a course of action, analysis, or even an opinion forever alters the situation at hand – and not necessarily for the better. This is true whether or not your advice is followed.

What’s more, by giving advice you may put the other person in a bind, because once you weigh in, they may feel that failing to take your advice would be a rebuke of you, your opinion, and even what you stand for.

When You Ask Questions

None of these problems exist when you ask questions.

Instead of seeking advice, you can just as easily invite others to “talk things through” with you. This approach avoids any tendency to put their ideas, analyses, or suggestions in a more prominent position than your own. Instead, it merely solicits their input as a touch-point and/or stimulus for your own thoughts on the matter.

Asking questions is also a help in identifying your own uncertainties about the situation at hand, and creating opportunities to dig beneath the surface and understand more of the elements at play.

Questions open the discussion to:

  • Analyze the situation from different perspectives,
  • Reframe the situation more favorably, and
  • Re-evaluate various elements, risks, and opportunities that seem important.

Instead of providing advice, you can just as easily avoid telling the other person what to do or even describing what you have done in seemingly similar situations.

You can respond to a request for advice with probing questions that stimulate the advice-seeker to think about the situation from new perspectives. Helpful questions include:

  • “What’s most important here?”
  • “What are your options?”
  • “How do you know that?” and
  • “Why do you assume or believe that?”

Asking questions helps a person understand the situation more clearly, and also promotes a deeper dig into his or her own assumptions, thoughts, and feelings. Questions help everyone involved better understand what’s going on, what they want from the situation, and how to obtain it.

Steering away from advice and focusing on some relevant, probing questions leads to a better understanding of the various pathways forward that are most sensible. They also lay the groundwork for anyone seeking advice to feel more confident in their own abilities to resolve the situation as favorably as possible.

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