Is it easier to give or to take?
To clarify: is it easier to give or to take advice?
Some people have trouble giving advice. They might fear that by offering an opinion they are disrespecting the recipient.
Then, if the recipient takes the advice, the giver will have to assume some measure of responsibility for the outcome. Most people are not very good at being responsible for their own behavior.
Also, they might hesitate to give advice because they lack confidence in their judgment.
And then there’s the larger problem. Let’s say that you are sufficiently old and wise to have some good advice to offer. The chances are good that you will be happy to give it to those who ask for it. By Adam Grant’s idea you will then become a giver. (See yesterday's post.)
But then, you are going to have to face this thorny problem: more than a few people will simply refuse to take good advice. It doesn’t even matter that the advice is excellent, to the point and clearly superior to all other solutions. Some people will simply reject it because it did not spring forth from the depths of their soul.
Harvard Professor Francesca Gino was so intrigued by the problem that she wrote a book about it. It’s title: Sidetracked. In it she asks why people sabotage themselves by failing to act in their own best interest when the course of action was recommended by someone else.
Gino notes correctly that successful people are very good at taking advice. They want to make the best decisions and therefore they seek out the best advice.
They do not take all the advice that is offered, but they never rely on just their own judgment, or better, on their gut.
Gino lists some of the reasons people do not take advice.
First, of course, is false pride, which we now call self-esteem. Some people are so insecure about their position and their competence that they dread being exposed as frauds. They come to believe that if they take advice that can only mean that they are incompetent.
Funnily enough, their refusal to take advice tends to confirm the fact that they are incompetent.
Second, Gino shows that it’s easier to take advice when you trust other people. If you are angry and distrust others, if you feel that no one wants what is good for you, you will be less likely to trust their advice.
On the other hand if you see people as your friends, if you believe that they want what is best for you, you will be more likely to take advice.
This also suggests that people who refuse to take advice do not want to be beholden to their advisors. They do not want their decision-making to be part of a social transaction; they prefer not to owe anything to anyone.
But then, there’s a rub. If you are feeling anxious and insecure you are more likely to take advice, but you are also more likely to take bad advice.
While it is wrong never to take advice it is also wrong to take all of the advice that is offered.
Taking advice involves knowing which advice to take and which advice to reject.
People who are anxious tend to take whatever advice is offered.
Psychology Today summarizes her idea:
Disturbingly, anxiety lowers our self-confidence which causes us to discount our own judgment even when the only alternative is listening to advisors with a clear conflict of interest.
We decide which advice to take by evaluating the source and by thinking through the ramifications and the potential outcomes. When we are anxious we are more interested in avoiding a trauma than in successfully completing a task.