Biz Features

How To Ask For Advice – 5 Things You Might Be Doing Wrong

by . January 15th, 2014


One mistake that even the best of us make is to confuse intelligence with wisdom or maturity. Even worse is when we fall victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect and totally misunderstand what it is we do or don’t know.

Even when we hold all the cards, the right bit advice can be welcome. The problem is, many of us don’t really give that much thought about the advice we get.

Ever asked for advice? Here’s 5 Things You’re Probably Doing Wrong:

5.) Context Matters



You can’t expect  most CEOs or managers to be as ready to address questions as a priest or a guidance counselor. Depending on whom you’re asking, you may want to try a different approach.

The same principle applies when it’s time to interpret their advice.  For instance the same strategies that worked well a generation ago may work differently today. If you’re doing something new, don’t expect people who’ve made it big a generation ago to understand you more than those in your immediate peer group.

It’s not necessarily about age either. It’s more of one’s ability to separate what parts were them just being lucky, and which ones were a direct result of their work.

Someone who’s invested a lot of time in a certain approach may understandably, feel that they’ve found a specific recipe for success when in fact it was only a recipe for a short time. It’s important to separate important insights from things that are just unsupportable, deeply-held opinions. This is much easier said than done.

4.) Don’t Tell The Whole World


Perhaps this is better couched in a non-business example.

Say, you have a problem with a significant other and you tell a close friend about it. Let’s say you got a bit carried away and said all sorts of negative things. Even if at some point in the future, you and your significant other resolve your issues, your friend’s idea that a problem exists might not go away. They’d probably tell other people too. This can make it difficult in situations where your friend will need to interact with you and your partner.

The very act of asking for advice will color your mentor’s ideas about you and your business, depending on how you ask for it, and depending on what kind of person they are. This is the way rumors and potentially harmful ideas about you and your enterprise spread and develop.

We’re not saying you shouldn’t ask for advice. Just be more picky about the kind of people you talk to.


3.) Check for Character – Not Just Qualifications



While it might make sense to ask someone with the right qualifications when face with a technical issue, people with the similar achievements in the same field can have totally different approaches to problems solving. It’s important to understand how your chosen mentor approaches problems, more than their raw technical expertise or even their accumulated experience.

Are they more like a fox, or a hedgehog?  Do they take things as they come like MacGyver or plan for every little contingency like Batman? Do they take calculated risks, or are just gamblers? Did they grow successful in conditions conducive to success? Are they straight arrows, or do they bend the rules? Are they above breaking the rules to get things done? Successful people and potential mentors belong along the whole range of practical and moral spectra.

Once you’ve understood a potential adviser’s approach, you could better gauge if their ideas are a good fit for whatever you’ve got cooking.


2.) Don’t Use Advice as a Crutch


tin can phone

Why are you asking someone for advice? Deep down, are you just trying to delay a decision you’ll have to do anyway? Do you just want reaffirmation for something your already believe in?

We’re not saying that’s not cool, but you have to be aware of why you’re asking in the first place. If there’s no good reason to, just go on with whatever options you have. NONE of them will ever be perfect anyway.


1.) Make Your Questions CLEAR


It’s best to assume that whomever you’re asking advice from is busy. Unless you’re sure they’re psychic, make sure you don’t waste anyone’s time with sloppy or imprecise questions. Even if they were helpful, the principle of “Garbage in, Garbage out” applies.


Bonus – Don’t Be a Jerk!


While it’s in your interest to be concise, don’t forget to thank whoever you’re asking advice from. Courtesy goes a long way – especially in an oftentimes overly casual world.


Image Credits

Alan Cleaver via photopin cc
Julian E… via photopin cc
Pryere via photopin cc
Florian SEROUSSI via photopin cc
Alex Cameron via photopin cc


Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.