At a crossroads and working out which way to turn? Got a niggling feeling you should be trying out different tactics in your life or business? Receiving and implementing advice can make or break you, depending on whom you take it from. Here are the three people whose advice you should take:
1. Those who have been in your shoes before
The advice of someone who has been through the exact challenge you are facing is someone whose advice is worth listening to. Whether they succeeded or learned from the experience, their knowledge and insights will be those you can’t get elsewhere. Business owners face common challenges whilst business owners in the same industry often face nearly identical challenges. Make the most of the advice from those who have trodden the path you’re about to tread.
Chris Reynolds, founder of The Business Method, asks two questions before taking advice. The first is, “Has the person giving me advice created the results I want to create?” The second is “If I knew what to do, what would I do?” Verifying the guidance you hear whilst backing yourself to find the right solution is a powerful combination that might lead to taking more effective action sooner.
A caveat to this advice: When did they do it? Solving certain problems in different technological or economical circumstances might not qualify someone to solve them right now. It’s easy for someone to look back fondly over a time and create a narrative around what they did and why it was so effective, forgetting mistakes or hardships that came with working through it.
Apply your own filter to this advice and think it through fully to ensure it’s applicable to you.
2. Someone who shares your values and knows you well
One business coach I know works solely with clients running large, impressive businesses seemingly at the expense of their physical and mental health. I know that this coach had a similar lifestyle when running his own business. It’s obvious that his values and his version of “normal” and “success” have been taken on board by his clients, perhaps subconsciously. You become a combination of the people you spend the most time with, and before long, your beliefs are shaped by theirs.
Shared values are paramount because one person’s heaven can be another person’s hell, depending on their individual life goals. I don’t believe that you have to share the exact same values and beliefs in order to give and receive advice effectively, but I do believe you need to optimise for the same outcomes, and I find it helpful to think in this way. In strength training, optimizing for a competition two weeks away or one six months away will require a different training programs. Business is the same. Optimizing to raise investment and sell in five years will require different actions to optimizing for a lifestyle business that enables you to keep a team size as small as is feasible.
Before you take advice from anyone at all, communicate your goals. Even before you start to work through a solution on your own, write down what you’re trying to achieve and make sure the advice takes you closer.
3. Your customers
Your clients’ advice on how you best serve their needs is invaluable. Blue chip companies spend millions on customer experience surveys to gather as much information as they can. If a client tells you how you could do better, listen. Their advice might be in their own best interests, sure, but aren’t you there to serve their best interests?
For a company creating technology products, the advice and feedback of its users often forms the road map of new features and improvements that the developers work on, which wouldn’t be possible without it.
The foundation of great client relationships is two-way communication and the ability to take on board suggestions. Listening carefully, repeating it back, then deciding what to do will mean you filter out the unreasonable requests and action those that will lead to happier clients you love to work with, who love to work with you in return.
When should you ignore advice?
According to Napoleon Hill, “The number one reason people fail is because they listen to their friends, family and neighbors.” Whilst that feels extreme, Hill might have a point! In Joy, a film about a woman who founds a business dynasty despite difficult circumstances, her family is filled with naysayers. Each member she engages with has an opinion on what she should and shouldn’t be doing at any given time. Each piece of advice is clouded with the judgment of their own successes and shortcomings, and often Joy didn’t actually ask for it! The film’s synopsis stipulates, “allies become adversaries and adversaries become allies.” Take advice from true allies, not those who can flit in between being your friend and foe.
How much advice you ask for is key. Jane Sparrow, culture expert and co-founder of Bank Of Me, said, “Some of us take advice too much and end up either confused or trying to please everyone. Others ask for too little and take the trial and error route to learning.” An exercise Jane recommends to her clients is “Find someone you know talks sense and ask them to give you advice of their choice.” You never know what you might hear!
Ignore advice when you are confident with your plan and you haven’t asked for it. Ignore advice when you want very different things from the person offering it. Ignore short-sighted advice that isn’t well thought through. Avoid advice you will feel compelled to take or guilty if you don’t take. Avoid advice from someone who hasn’t experienced something at least vaguely similar.
The best and most valuable advice is from someone with relevant experience, who understands your values and your goals. They help you make decisions and solve problems by thinking through solutions, making suggestions, challenging you, then extrapolating the advice into the future to predict what will happen if you go a certain way. Moreover, they won’t be offended if you don’t take it. Once you find that person, don’t let them go!