People often make inferior decisions in their lives, needlessly, by not seeking out advice from others. So says Raul Valdes-Perez, author of Advice is for Winners: How to Get Advice for Better Decisions in Life and Work. There are many reasons for this failure, but he believes the most common reason is we just don’t think of seeking advice. Another is that we have a wrong idea of how getting advice can help.

Getting Advice Isn’t a Habit

Parents bring up children to excuse themselves when causing harm, or to give thanks when receiving favors. Teachers train students to solve academic problems by themselves.

Nobody trains young people to ask themselves who else could help when they have a problem, but not the knowledge and experience to deal with it. This is just one (among many) reasons why people don’t seek advice. Another is the fear of appearing weak. Valdes-Perez discusses 28 reasons in his book. However, another very different reason is a mistaken, narrow idea of how advice helps.

Advice Has Multiple Benefits

Valdes-Perez writes that he once received a polite email from an “Elizabeth” who had met him through his teenaged daughter. Elizabeth was a recent college grad who was working, but wanted a career change, and was inquiring about general openings with his firm.

As CEO, he checked with personnel, but there were no openings for her background. He relayed this reply and also offered to meet to discuss her goals and career options. Elizabeth thanked him, said she would follow up, but never did. His impression was that she wanted a solution to her problem and failed to realize that advice has many other benefits.

Advice Can Provide Solutions

Lisa is a mother of three who wants to rejoin the workforce to pay for her kids’ schooling.

Lisa went to college, then worked, but stopped to raise a family. Lisa doesn’t want a high-stress job or travel. Her self-employed husband can handle family emergencies when she can’t. She speaks German. She’s OK with a long commute. She’s done technical work before, but that work is obsolete. She doesn’t want to be on a computer all day. Clearly, an advisor could solve her problem by offering a job or referring Lisa to a suitable opening.

Advice Provides Pointers

Lisa shouldn’t only reach out to advisors who might solve her problem. Instead, advisors can provide pointers to individuals, locations, or writings that have relevant expertise. For example, Lisa knows a woman named Cynthia through her church.

Cynthia has a managerial role in human resources and is generally knowledgeable about trends. Cynthia recommends an excellent modern guide to rejoining the workforce after motherhood, with pitfalls, typical interview questions, etc. Cynthia also tells Lisa about an upcoming seminar that is on topic.

Advice Helps Frame the Problem

At a family gathering, Lisa chats with Jason, a high school college counselor. Jason helps Lisa realize her goal is to pay for her children’s college; working is just a means to that end. Jason suggests Lisa help her oldest, who’s applying to colleges in the Fall, follow a strategy of getting a decent education with the least out-of-pocket costs.

Lisa can look for a job later, depending on circumstances. As seen, advisors point out unrecognized aspects of the problem, helping to frame it and proposing new criteria that a solution should satisfy.

Advice Boosts Confidence

Advisors can grow one’s confidence that an approach or solution is a good one. Deciding on a course of action without confidence is undesirable because of the self-doubt that may linger for a long time. Once decisions are made, it’s important to proceed with confidence.

After talking with various people, attending the seminar that Cynthia pointed out and seeing how many mothers are unsure after being away from the workforce so long, Lisa feels reassured that she is not alone and that she understands what her options are and what to do about them. 

Advice Convinces Skeptics

A respected advisor can be a source of credibility that helps you overcome skepticism as you move toward a solution. Let’s say that Lisa’s husband is unfamiliar with modern college admissions. The only solution he can see to the future budget crunch is for Lisa to start working again. But Lisa cites Jason, the college counselor, who thinks that a significant effort put now into the applications process will provide equal gain, and will let Lisa rejoin the workforce without being in a hurry to take just any job.

Advice Builds Social Engagement

Most people are pleased to be called on for specific advice and like to share what they know with sincere advice seekers. Such encounters build social capital: A set of cordial human relationships that can lead to mutual aid. Lisa’s “advisors” (friends and acquaintances she has discussed her problem with) will be happy to offer ongoing tips and encouragement, and Lisa takes care to let them know how things are going. Especially, she thanks them for their input when she lands a job or helps achieve a good outcome in college admissions.

Get Advice and Prosper

Getting advice brings others’ knowledge and experience to bear on your problem, while acknowledging your special circumstances and goals. Valdes-Perez wrote his book in order to turn the art of advice seeking into a practiced skill. We’ve focused here just on the benefits of advice – because it’s more than just solutions! As his book makes clear, there is much more to becoming good at advice seeking, which will help you make better decisions in all aspects of life.  As the book concludes: Get Advice and Prosper.

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