Advice, you say?
This is one of those déjà vu moments: I’m certain I’ve complained about this before. The ‘this’ is advice. People often come to us, in life, asking for advice. They consider us wise in one way or another about one topic or another. So what do we do? We evaluate their need, factor in realities and consequences and then just dive in: we give advice.
Here’s the problem: who really wants our advice? I have, unfortunately, found that over the years, those who come for advice actually believe they already have the answer. They are not coming to me/you to solicit a solution, they are coming for a confirmation; I insist on the word confirmation and deliberately avoid confirmation ‘or’ disagreement. They do not want to hear that they are wrong, they only want to hear that they had found the solution well before you were asked to sit at the table.
If I were young, even youngish, I would surmise that it must be my lack of exposure; I would argue that in due time I would find people who cherished my advice. Heck, who is to say that I, or any giver of advice, is always right and when we are wrong, it’s normal to be called out. But here’s the deal, I have been giving advice, professionally, for three decades. In that much time you would think I’d get a few right, maybe even 25%, okay, 10%?
Just this morning, sitting at the National Press Club, I had a very enlightening conversation with another ‘advice-giver’. Guess what? He shared my exact same frustrations. Here was a man who had advised national administrations, foreign governments and media all over the world. His lettres de noblesse were well established. And here he was telling me about a recent story when a national health ministry asked for advice. His delegated contact was a 28-year old fresh out of graduate school (note that my contact is also a university professor). Well, the 28-year old, upon reading the report, by the second sentence, exclaimed that this gentleman obviously did not know what he was talking about and that his own approach was better, thank you very much, and that he would not jeopardize his standing by handing it in.
Clearly I was not there. I did not read the report. I can only vouch for my contact, who I looked up online, and yes, he is who he says he is. But the way he told me the story felt familiar.
Can this be changed? Will advice ever be heeded? One could argue that advice can save lives, avert war and stop pandemics. But no, advice per se, will, I believe, continue to suffer at the hands of biased intermediaries whose real agenda is not to pass on your advice, but rather their own.
Did I mention I have to give someone some advice today?