The ability to effectively use feedback or advice is essential to success in all professional roles. Great leaders know that advice is more of an art than a science, and it is a skill that can be honed and mastered over time and with experience. By opening your mind to alternative viewpoints and encouraging others to do the same, you can encourage smarter decision-making, more linear and logical thinking, and avoid personal and cognitive biases that derail team and organizational success.
Being a good advisor means truly understanding another person’s situation and circumstances before formulating and imparting your thoughts. It can often be difficult to untangle the details of a sticky situation, especially with limited information or with only one side of the story. On the other hand, advice seekers need to be able to recognize when and how to ask for help. They have to overcome their instinctive inclination to immediately defend their views, and open themselves to other options and alternative viewpoints.
In a new article, Garvin and Margolis (2015) offer guidelines on how to avoid common mistakes when asking for and offering advice. Here are a couple of pitfalls that top their list:
COMMON MISTAKES WHEN GIVING OR RECEIVING ADVICE
- “Choosing the wrong advisers.” Seek out advisers who can offer you a robust assessment of your situation and circumstances. While talking things through with friends or those who are like-minded may be convenient, it can also serve to narrow your viewpoint.
- “Defining the problem poorly.” Be honest with your advisor. At times we selectively remove certain details from a story because they portray us in a bad light. We tell our advisor about the mistakes made by everyone around us, and fail to admit to our own blunders.
- “Misjudging the quality of advice.” Don’t discard advice solely because it’s coming from someone you don’t like. That person may know you better than you think. Also, recognize that advice conveyed confidently is not necessarily good advice. Use your head. Learn when to defer to the experience of others and when to hold strong to beliefs you know to be correct.
- “Overstepping boundaries.” Don’t offer advice on topics you don’t know much about just because it makes you feel important. Doing so will make you lose credibility with the person you’re advising, and with those adversely impacted by your recommendations.
- “Offering self-centered guidance.” Make sure that the advice you impart makes the most sense for your advisees. Don’t tell them what you would do, or how you would respond. Counsel them on how to play to their own strengths. Understand that actions may have different repercussions for them than they might have for you.
The authors also offer some best practices and recommended stages for people seeking and offering advice.
RECOMMENDED STAGES OF ADVICE SEEKING
- “Stage 1: Finding the right fit.” The authors recommend that advisees put together a personal ‘board’ of competent people who possess unique and diverse strengths, experiences, and vantage points. Advisees should then think about who might be most qualified to offer perspective on specific cases as they arise. If you are sought out as an advisor, think about the particulars of the situation and whether or not you are the best person to offer meaningful insight to your advisee.
- “Stage 2: Developing a shared understanding.” The exchange only works if both advisor and advisee are on the same page. Advisee—you must tell your advisor the whole story, even those parts that may not paint you in the best light. Advisor—probe for details not offered by your advisee if they would help you get a better grasp of the situation.
- “Stage 3: Crafting alternatives.” Advisers and advisees should work together to come up with a number of ideas and options that could lead to desired goals, or the resolution of the issue at hand.
- “Stage 4: Converging on a decision.” At this stage the advisee may choose to seek out a second or third opinion. The advisor should help the advisee to whittle down options and come to a decision.
- “Stage 5: Putting advice into action.” This is the tough part. The advisor takes a step back, and it is up to the advisee to turn ideas, intentions, and plans into action.
Following these tips and guidelines should help advice and feedback become more useful tools that we can all use to enhance our workplaces and personal lives.
Garvin, D. A., & Margolis, J. D. (2015). The Art of Giving and Receiving Advice. Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb.