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Turning down advice from people you trust

(January 2, 2024 Newsletter)

Happy 2024! I hope you’re starting off the year refreshed and energized.

On my quiet workweek last week, I listened to a recent episode of A Slight Change of Plans where Maya Shankar interviews Adam Grant about his new book, Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things. (have you read it yet? I haven’t but am happy for recommendations).

The most insightful point that he made in the episode, in my opinion, was about filtering out advice from trusted sources.

My worst allergy. You might have already heard me say at some point that I’m allergic to advice. As a recovering perfectionist, I used to rely on others to make tough decisions, but I’ve learned to be much more attuned to my own values and trajectory, and to trust that I know myself best, so the allergy has grown stronger with time.

  • To clarify, I’m not against input, suggestions, reflections, or giving personal examples, but I rarely find advice valuable (especially when I haven’t asked for it!). If a sentence starts with “You know what you should do?” I will politely nod and smile until the person stops speaking, but I’ve learned to take whatever the person says with a grain of salt.

  • If my allergy is new to you, check out the TED Talk Taming your Advice Monster for a witty summary of why advice sucks.

That being said… if you were to seek out advice, you’re likely to turn to someone you already trust, which makes it even harder to ignore when it isn’t relevant or helpful. Why?

  • We expect that these trusted advisors know something we don’t about the situation… or even about ourselves.

Oftentimes the advice sounds really good, so how can you sense that it won’t be helpful?

  • It’s been offered before the person asked you a single question to clarify your situation.

  • The person cut you off mid-sentence to interject their opinion about your next steps.

  • While their advice might sound good on the surface, you still have a better sense than they do of the context or particularities of this case.

  • They might be great sources of counsel for you on certain subject areas, but this is a different topic that isn’t their expertise.

How can you filter the advice that comes your way more adeptly? You can pay closer attention to your body’s signals and notice your inner narrative while and immediately after the advice comes in.

The body: As or after they’re speaking, do you feel your:

  • Jaw or hands clench

  • Stomach tighten

  • Throat or chest get tight

Or alternatively do your muscles relax, do you feel lighter, do you instinctively smile, or do you feel chills?  

Inner narrative: As or after they’re speaking, do you say to yourself:

  • “That’s not exactly where I thought this was going.”

  • “That doesn’t seem right to me.”

  • “Sounds good for someone else, but not me.”

Or do you say to yourself,

  • “Wow, that feels really resonant.”

  • “It’s like they read my mind.”

  • “I’m so glad they said that.”

The phrases might not be so straightforward, but what versions have you heard or felt that indicate, however faintly, that what you’re hearing really lands well for you?

Either way, the real question is as follows: if you were having this conversation with yourself, what would your own answer be to the question that you’re seeking from others?

  • You probably have an answer – the so the next question is what’s holding you back from going with the answer you know to be true? Are you missing information? Does it seem too hard? Too risky?

The more responsibility you take on at work and the more complex the projects are, the more uncertainty you face (and the fewer people you can trust for good advice).

So as 2024 begins, I wish for you to hear and feel your own inner wisdom and learn to trust it more than you automatically trust advice from anyone else.


The Coaching Corner

Here are some reflection questions you can use 1:1 and team meetings this week:

  1. What are you most looking forward to in the year ahead?

  2. What are you excited to learn in the next year/quarter/month?

  3. What are you wondering as the new year gets underway?

  4. What are you holding onto from last year that you’d like to leave behind?

Try them out and let me know how they go!



What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How To Cultivate It): “Leaders who focus on building both internal and external self-awareness, who seek honest feedback from loving critics, and who ask what instead of why can learn to see themselves more clearly — and reap the many rewards that increased self-knowledge delivers.”


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