Sunday 9 January 2011

Beware Advice

I used to think I was not good at getting or giving advice, which is not so good for a writer or a mother. Everything you write gets reviewed which is a form of advice. And as a mother I am constantly handing out suggestions to my children. OK, maybe they are more like commandments but you get the idea.

But what I have learned lately is that I am better at both getting and giving depending on the spirit with which the advice is administered.

I remember when my husband and I decided to start up our own business, 99% of the people we told in England were horrified and tried desperately to steer us clear of what they were sure was inevitable complete and total fiscal ruin. I couldn't understand this advice. They'd never even looked at our business plan. How could they be so certain based on such little information?

As a writer struggling to climb the mountain of getting a novel published, I find there are loads of people telling me exactly what I should and shouldn't do.  Some of it is priceless.  Funny thing is most of it is contradictory.  Much of it doesn't make any sense.  Bits of it are just outright rude, destructive and unnecessarily mean.

Great advice is not the same as being told exactly what you want to hear. What is said is less important than the spirit with which that advice is given.

Before you ask for anyone's advice and certainly before you take that advice, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Why am I asking their advice? Are they an expert on the topic? What qualifications do they have to give me advice? What experiences have they had that enables them to speak from a position of knowledge?

If you are asking someone who doesn't entertain what you should serve at a dinner party, the result will not be pretty.  If you are asking for interview tips from someone who has never been interviewed or hired people, find a different expert.  Make sure they are knowledgeable about the topic.  If you are asking someone you do not respect for advice, give that one a miss.

2. How important to them is it that I take their advice? What would happen if I just ignore what they say?

I struggle with this.  I have some friends who constantly seek out my advice.  Just as consistently they ignore our advice.  And then they complain to me when our advice proves to be the more beneficial path to have taken.  Now, when they ask, I don't have an opinion for them.  About anything.  I keep it to myself.  So, don't waste people's time if you know that what they have to say isn't going to be valued by you.  Talk about the weather. 

3. What's in it for them? 

I know an individual who for whatever reason just can't (or perhaps won't) agree with me on anything.  That being said she doesn't agree with most people.  She is always the rain cloud over everyone's parade.   Quite frankly, her opinion doesn't count because it is too coloured with whatever shit is driving her to be such a pooper.  Make sure you pick a circle you can trust to give you sound advice without prejudice.

4.  Finally, do you need advice?  Or do you need approval?

I remember when I bought my first car all by myself without my father's guidance.  I walked in, test drove it, negotiated the terms and price, and drove it home.  The first call I made was to my father.  He was furious.  He was gutted I hadn't asked for his advice.  His disapproved of my choice.  He disapproved of the price I paid.  Basically, I think he disapproved of my attempts at being independent and despite the fact that I was well into my 20s, what I really wanted was my father's approval. 

Do your own research.   Speak to experts.  Some of these experts should be friends but balance those out with the opinions of objective observers who have no skin in the game.  And then go for it!

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