One of my teachers once said, “I always think I’m right, but I don’t think I’m always right.”
Think about this for a moment.
Each of us tends to believe, at any given point, that our thoughts and actions are correct and justified. That said, we have to acknowledge that we have been wrong or mistaken at times.
I recently sought advice from several people on how to deal with a challenging situation. Gratefully, I chose to follow the advice of the person who essentially told me to be calm (rather than tense), objective (rather than making assumptions and jumping to conclusions), straightforward (rather than playing games), and proactive (rather than passive) in seeking a resolution. The advice was bound to work very well, and I’m grateful I followed it.
We can be wrong for various reasons — our judgment can be clouded by blind spots, tunnel vision, or negative emotions — and it is wise to seek a wide array of counsel. The more important the decision, the broader and more sophisticated the counsel should be. In business contexts, good counsel comes from attorneys, accountants, bankers, and other advisors. In career contexts, good counsel can come from professionals with more experience who have successfully navigated the path you are treading and avoided pitfalls along the way.
Word to the wise: I have avoided disasters by seeking and following advice. And yes, I have gone through painful “learning experiences” by foolishly presuming that I was smart enough and didn’t need to heed counsel.
That said, getting good advice is not merely a matter of asking. You have to do so correctly.
Overcome your counselor’s resistance to sharing candidly. Personally, I follow the simple rule of avoiding giving unsolicited advice. If someone does solicit my advice, I try to discern whether the person is serious about receiving my real opinion. Often people are seeking affirmation for what they have already decided to do, in which case it is counterproductive to share insights. I avoid entangling myself in pointless arguments with unteachable people who are already persuaded of their course of action.
I am not the only one who follows these simple principles of giving advice judiciously — they are commonsense for anyone who understands human nature — so make sure you convey sincerity in seeking advice. If you do not, the person you are asking will probably discern that you are not serious and will not give you real advice.
Give all the necessary background information. Do not succumb to the temptation to slant the scenario in such a way that the counselor is inclined toward giving the opinion you hope to get. Be sure to give all the relevant details so that you can get the most benefit from the opinions of an objective outside party. For example, if you are asking how to resolve a conflict and you only share about the faults of the other party in your conflict, your counselor will not be able to advise you appropriately on remedying your own faults. You have to demonstrate a level of humility, honesty, and integrity that conveys you are serious about getting to the truth — even if that means admitting you were wrong in the past.
Ask open ended questions and listen for answers. Be ready for surprising answers and words that you do not want to hear. You might have to reexamine your assumptions and change your course of action. If you are not ready to do this, don’t bother wasting your words and others’ time by asking for counsel.