Here are key questions to ask yourself:
Is the advice requested or unsolicited?
If you asked for the advice, listen up. Get specific about your dilemma and let the person describe what they would do if they were you. Take notes (mentally and literally – on your writing pad or electronic device).
If you didn’t ask for the advice, you’re probably dealing with an overbearing know-it-all. Set boundaries. Tell the person you don’t really need the advice. Or just politely say thank you, then walk away and make yourself scarce.
If you need to talk through the problem without being advised on what to do, find a good friend, a trusted confidante or a skillful therapist who will simply listen (and maybe ask you insightful questions to move you out of the rut).
Who is the source of the advice?
Determine if the person who’s giving you advice is truly an expert or too much of an expert. The person needs to be smarter or have more experience for their advice to be worth much. But a smart person with lots of experience might give you advice that is based on situations that are different from yours.
Know whether the person has a biased perspective, ulterior motives, or a vested interest. If you’re looking to hand in your resignation and start a business, getting advice from a risk-averse, overly cautious colleague won’t be very helpful. This person might scare you into hanging on to your day job. They will tell you to play it safe and keep the status quo, when what you really need to do is take a risk and make a change.
What is your history with the person? Do they normally give you sage and sound advice, or wrong-headed and misguided advice? If the person is someone you can count on, stay open to what they say. Otherwise, be skeptical.
Are their values and priorities similar to yours? Getting another person’s perspective helps. But don’t take their advice if it conflicts strongly with your values and priorities.
Get advice from someone who walks the talk and leads by example. If they talk about how much they care about friends or family members, but do and say things to alienate them (like lie, criticize and blame), don’t take their advice on how to resolve an interpersonal conflict. Go to someone who has deep, strong and healthy relationships.
What does your instinct tell you?
What’s right for one person might not be right for the other. What works in some situations might not work in others. What led to failure or success in the past could result in a different outcome in the future.
At the end of the day, you need to trust your own instincts. The advice has to resonate with you in order for you to truly internalize it and act on it. Solicit feedback and use others as a sounding board, but pay attention to your own gut.
You will usually feel discomfort or get defensive when there is something critical to learn. Getting revved up doesn’t mean the advice is right or wrong. But if it hits a nerve, take a step back to see what’s really going on.
There could be tremendous truth in what seems to be wrong advice. There could be misleading information in what appears to be right advice. Give yourself time to process the feedback. And trust that you know what’s best for you.
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Photo by: Laughlin Elkind