Four principles for accepting advice without getting dragged in the wrong direction

I heard this at a recent event: “I got feedback after my last presentation … so I am going to spend more time on slide 3.”

My issues with the evils of PowerPoint notwithstanding, the presenter should probably have ignored that advice.

Slide 3 was probably fascinating for someone with a deep interest in the technical whys and wherefores of the topic, but for me – and judging by much of audience – it was a busy mish-mash with too much information obscuring the story.

Which brings me to my topic this week: Not all advice is good advice. Does the mere fact someone else says something make it better, more insightful, more worthy than our thinking?

Advice is a hard thing to control. It can be well-meaning or not, unsolicited, or something we seek out. But unless you have a good sense of self, what you believe and care about and your own position and thoughts, what you hear can send you careening wildly off-track.

However, advice can also clarify, add value and propel forward whatever issue you’re wrestling with. Living between those two ends is a spectrum of somewhat helpful and mildly confusing you’re left to try and navigate.

We live in times where advice is all around us. Flicking through a magazine or newspaper, scrolling a social media feed or browsing a bookstore inundates us with people who have the answer for how to live, work and be “better”. A quick scan can quickly make us lose faith in ourselves and feel like a broken failing mess.

I sometimes struggle to remember that for every question I have there are many more answers because it is never one size fits all. A good solution depends on my situation and set of circumstances. My identity. My history and past decisions. My organisation and self is just that – mine. And while there are some general principles I can apply, only I can know me.

By all means ask for advice, seek out what you need but be prudent. So, with all acknowledgement of the irony, here are some principles I use to help me avoid getting dragged by the tides of advice: 

♦ Have a sense of your self, or at least the explore your thoughts before you seek out other opinions. Even if the advice you get changes your thinking, you will have a better sense of what about it changed and where you are going as a result.

♦ Limit the number of people you seek advice from and be cautious of anything unsolicited, however well meaning. Too many opinions and different perspectives and all you’ll get is confusion, not clarity.  

♦ Find a group of trusted advisors – people who you can go to anytime, who know you and your situation, and will keep your interests at heart when sharing their perspective on whatever you ask.

♦ Give yourself time to think things through, even if your first knee-jerk response turns out to be the one you go with, always stop and take a breath before you act. There’s a terrific podcast this week from the people at Reboot called “The space between stimulus and response” – take a listen or read the article on the same topic.

A good friend once told me when I was in a quandary, I should use the principle ‘ trust your gut’. And while there are plenty of times when the best option is a balance between how you feel and other information, my gut has saved me many times. Thinking back, the only decisions in my career I have genuinely regretted were those where I allowed advice from others to overrule my gut.

Whether you go with your gut, make careful lists, get opinions and thoughts from everyone you know, or just check with a few close advisors, the most important thing to remember is that not all advice is good advice and sometimes you just have to have a little faith in yourself.

How do you navigate advice?

See you next week.

Michel is an Independent Brand Thinker and Adviser dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. You can find Michel at or you can follow her on Twitter @michelhogan

NOW READ: How to avoid failure and get a successful brand result


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