Great Advice

I’ve gotten a lot of advice in my time. Sometimes it’s irritating, but it’s always a sign that people care. As soon as people give up on you, they stop trying to help you improve. However, there is more than one way to give advice.

Is there such a thing as bad advice? I don’t think there is, when it comes from someone who is sincerely trying to help. A sales pitch, however, can sometimes be confused with advice. As long as the salesperson has their own interest at heart, or is willing to pitch a product or service, regardless of whether or not it makes sense for you, they are not giving you advice. Most people react poorly to a sales pitch and quickly try to disengage, which is often the proper response.

How do we recognise good advice? Good advice generally starts with someone telling you: “You should…” They are usually offering an idea that you hadn’t considered. Even better, the person giving the advice should ask some questions first. The better they understand you and your specific situation, the more appropriate their advice will be. In fact, if they start in on the advice without asking any questions, chances are that it will feel like a sales pitch.

In the vein of asking questions, great advice often starts: “What can you do…?” I truly believe that most people have the answers to their problems within themselves. In fact, I have found that some people, either from pride or ego, will reject all advice. Not to mention that people will rarely become as invested in the ideas of others as they are in their own ideas. After asking questions to better understand you and your situation, someone who gives great advice will help pinpoint the area that needs to be addressed and ask you how you will address that area. They may continue to question possible outcomes or potential pitfalls you may see. They will try to lead you to the answer, without thrusting it on to you.

An example from health care may be enlightening. If you were to visit your doctor for a physical exam, what would he or she say to you? Mine might recommend playing more sports or eating less sugar. What the doctor doesn’t know, though, is that there’s no way I am going to start playing sports or eating less sugar. It’s just not a part of my lifestyle. It’s good advice, but it doesn’t fit me. Great advice might be: what can you do to be more active? I don’t know if splashing around a pool with my kids counts, but that’s something that I am willing to do and isn’t too much of a stretch. I am also willing to increase the exercise I do inside my own home. How could I improve my diet? I could eat more fresh fruit in place of sugary junk. It’s still sugar, but it’s better for me. Heck, I’ve just gotten great advice without even having to visit my doctor.

Great financial advice would be similar. How can you reduce your debt? What could you do to increase your savings? What steps can you take to make your (retirement?) goal more realistic? I suspect that most of the answers will come from within you, if only because you know what changes you are willing to make.The benefit of working with a professional (like the doctor, in my example), is to give feedback on the effectiveness of your ideas and to follow up with you, at your next meeting, on your follow-through.

While good advice offers ideas, which may be useful, you need to judge them for relevance to your situation. Great advice, however, asks questions. The more questions you are asked, the more likely it is that the answers you find will be appropriate to you and your situation.