Have you ever made a bad decision? Looking back, was it avoidable, if only you had sought out advice? If not, then congratulations: you are uniquely blessed. If so, then welcome to our club, a large one indeed.
Avoidable bad decisions happen to everyone, and they keep happening to some. Why? Parents and teachers train us to apologize when causing harm and to give thanks when accepting help. But nobody trains young people, when they have an important decision to make, to ask themselves if they have the knowledge and experience to handle it, and if not, who does and can help.
For diverse reasons of faulty judgment, emotion, social relations, and even biology, people do not try to bring the knowledge and experience of others to bear on their problems and challenges, in the service of better decision making.
One reason for this failure is a fear of appearing weak. Another reason is that schoolwork trains you to do problems on your own without consulting anyone, which is considered cheating. Still another reason, a modern one, is that people think that consulting books or the web are good enough, neglecting that often good advice critically depends on one’s circumstances and goals, which vary greatly from one person to the next. Good books and web articles can convey principles and specific examples, but not address the great variety of people’s situations.
However, I believe that the main reason that people do not proactively seek advice from others is that they just don’t think of it; it’s not a practiced habit. Even when people do take the initiative of seeking out advice, they often don’t do it well; it’s not a practiced skill. For example, they might seek advice from only one person in order to avoid the confusion and stress that result from getting contradictory advice.
To become a skilled advice seeker, and thus make better decisions, it’s also helpful to understand that advice consists of much more than solutions to a problem.
Let’s consider the case of a mother who wishes to rejoin the workforce after a long absence. Advice can consist of potential solutions – information about a specific opening – but it can also provide pointers to helpful people (someone similar to you who went through what you did), readings, or events.
Advice can reveal dimensions of a problem that you haven’t considered; for example, you are not rushed, so rather than just respond to openings, instead identify where you’d like to work and plan how to get in. Advice enables you to proceed with confidence that you’ve considered the available options, and deepens social engagement that can be drawn on in the future for mutual aid.
- When you have a complicated problem or issue, consider whether seeking advice is worthwhile.
- Advice seeking is a skill that can be honed by learning its principles and best practices, such as how to identify who’s a good advisor.
- One’s life challenge is not to go it alone, but to artfully bring to bear the world’s knowledge and experience on whatever you are undertaking.
Get advice and prosper.