The Four Hidden Dangers in Good Advice

Advice is everywhere. (It also weaves through this post.)

What college to attend, what career path to take, when and whom to marry, what car to buy, and even what book to read…many of the decisions that affect our entire life’s path begin with advice.

And most of it is “good” advice. Good advice emanates from the intent to lower risk…and therein lies the danger.

Here are the four hidden dangers in good advice.

  1. We give advice based on limited perspectives (our own life experiences): For example, it’s really easy for me to tell someone to invest in an index fund as annual return rates have been largely positive for a decade. Ask someone who grew up in the 1930s and they’ll have vastly different advice.
  2. We give advice with the desire to see the person succeed: The problem with this approach is that it often translates to a recommendation for the sure thing or the safe path. Would this type of advice sound as good if we prefaced it with, “This is my recommendation for the mediocre middle.”?
  3. We downplay the necessary work: To make our advice more appealing, we rarely focus on the late nights and early mornings required. We choose not to highlight the sleepless nights and the gut-wrenching decisions involved. Instead, we talk about tips, hacks, and shortcuts.
  4. We filter our own experiences: We remember good advice someone gave us that changed our lives forever. The problem is that it wasn’t their advice, it’s just what we choose to remember. We are inundated with advice, influences, cultural norms, perspectives, and both good and bad examples. Remembering a past success and linking it to good advice may be entirely accurate…or just a very normal selective memory.

What’s the solution for better advice?

Stop giving solutions or suggestions. Instead, encourage better questions.

Like teaching someone to fish, getting someone to ask better questions is critical to sustainable personal growth. Two foundational books on asking better questions are “QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life” and “The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever”.

Both have helped me tremendously to stop giving advice (my default) and to ask and encourage better questions.

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