How to Get (& Give) Better Advice

Someone once asked Harry Truman how he maintained such a good relationship with his daughters. He said it was easy – he figures out what they want to do, and then advises them to do that.

If everyone could advise like Truman, our relationships might be much smoother. Often when people are giving advice, they are speaking from their perspective – what would work best for them. That’s why it is often frustrating to get advice. Sometimes we don’t feel it resonating with us, yet we know that the person we are talking to is reliable and wise. This produces an inner conflict, which can send us spinning off into turmoil.

No man (or woman) is an island, and it’s the most natural thing in the world to turn to others when we need guidance. It’s just more useful when we do it mindfully.

So here is some advice about getting and giving advice. Yep, it’s about to get “meta.”

Getting Better Advice

I once heard playwright Suzan-Lori Parks give a talk about mentorship. When she was in high school, her guidance counselor told her she’d never be a writer because she couldn’t spell. So Parks became a chemistry major in college. Luckily for her, she also took a creative writing class with the great American novelist James Baldwin, who told her she was a born writer. Luckily for us, Baldwin’s advice won out – or we would be minus one Pulitzer-prize-winning dramatist.

Parks laid out two conditions for taking advice:

1.      Is it coming from someone who loves you?

2.      Does it chime with something deep within you?

If the answer to these questions is no, then it's OK to politely ignore the advice. 

The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre was big on personal responsibility. He said that when we ask for advice from someone we know, we already have a general idea of what they will say (essentially, we choose our advice when we choose our advisor). That means it’s our job to seek advice only from people who know our heart’s desires and share our life philosophy. This ensures that the conversation will stay nourishing and on track.

Giving Better Advice

Oftentimes, our urge to advise other people is pre-emptive. Our ego is coaxing us to speak our minds before we really understand where the other person is coming from. So whenever we feel an inner urge to advise someone right away, we can make the choice to listen more deeply instead. We can ask thoughtful questions to draw that person out about what they are feeling about their situation. Then we are helping them to clarify what is already in their own hearts.

Consider a scenario in which a friend is debating between two job offers and asks you to be a sounding board. Here are two possible ways you could respond:

1.      “Job offer A has much better benefits and salary. If I were you, I’d go for that one.”

2.      “I can tell by the tone of your voice that you’re much more excited about job offer B. Is that how you’re feeling?”

In the first example, we’re assuming that the person is “just like us,” and this comes from ego. In the second example, we’re honoring the fact that each one of us is wonderfully unique. What’s best for our friend may be worlds away from what is best for us.

Giving advice mindfully takes practice. Our ego habits are deeply entrenched. Yet if we commit to giving better advice, we can be assured that kinder and wiser advice will start coming our way as well. That’s just how it works – we get back what we give.

“When the voice and the vision on the inside become more profound, more clear and loud, than the opinions on the outside, you’ve mastered your life.” – Dr. John Demartini

*Hey parents! Want to apply these advice-giving tips to your young kids? Check out this cool article by Naomi Aldort…*

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