Last night I found myself surfing the web looking for information on building a barn door. There are millions of web pages with information about how to build a barn door, but none seemed to have the information I needed. (In full honesty, it was probably among all the junk I read; I just couldn’t discover it, and my patience got the best of me.)
I gave up.
Until I realized that one of my friends from my theater days would know the question to my answer or at least be able to point me in the right direction.
Yet, I hesitated.
Asking for advice can be daunting. It puts us in a vulnerable place.
But even with all today’s information available with a few keystrokes, getting advice is still one of the most powerful ways to achieve our goals.
First, let’s clear up the confusion between asking for advice and asking for help. Asking for help is asking someone to do something on our behalf. For instance, “Can you help me complete this project by doing this particular task?”
Asking for advice, on the other hand, is asking for guidance or a recommendation on how to do something best. For instance, “Can you give me some suggestions on how I can complete this project by the deadline?” In asking for advice, the accountability for completion still lies with us.
How to Ask for Advice.
- Be Specific: What piece of advice are you looking to receive? Is it about a particular task that needs to be completed? Is it about a coworker? Is it something in the future? The more you can narrow down the advice you need, the better your chance of getting good advice.
- Ask the Right Person: When we ask for advice, we usually turn to the people we are closest to, family, friends, and coworkers. However, they may not be the right person. You want to ask someone with expertise or experience in the area where you seek advice. For instance, I would not ask my marketing person if I needed advice on building a house.
- Find the Best Time: Have you ever had the experience of asking someone a question and they ignore you? Most likely, it wasn’t you; it was that they were preoccupied with their own challenges. If you know the person, maybe you can drop by; otherwise, send an email and see if you can get five minutes of their time to talk through a challenge you are experiencing.
- Bring Curiosity: One of the biggest mistakes people make when asking for advice is that they aren’t looking for advice. They are looking for someone to confirm what they already believe. This wastes everyone’s time. Be open-minded and genuinely listen to the person’s advice. You are asking them because they have experience and expertise that you do not have.
- Specific Actions: As you listen to the advice, write down three to five actions you can take based on what you have heard. If you don’t hear specific steps you can take, ask your advisor what specific actions they would recommend.
- Return the Favor: Always ask your advisor how you can return the favor. Maybe you can introduce them to one of your contacts. Perhaps you can do a quick task for them. Maybe you can give them insights into a subject you have experience or expertise in. Keep the conversation going beyond the singular meeting to help build your network.
- Gratitude: Send a simple thank-you card expressing gratitude for their time and advice. Tell them how you plan to put it into action. Follow-up after you did telling them how it worked.
- Throw it away: Sometimes, we get advice that isn’t right for us. Maybe we didn’t do a good job explaining what we were trying to do. Maybe we don’t have the resources to put the advice into action. Maybe it just doesn’t feel like us. It is okay to discard the advice if we aren’t ready to act on it.
Asking for advice is a critical behavior we all need to use to succeed. I can imagine where I would be without all the advice I have received along my journey. Sometimes all you have to do is ask.
PS: As a certified leadership coach, I work with my clients to guide them to better business outcomes. A lot of our work is helping them decide which path they are on and who can help them be successful in that journey. If you need advice or want to set up a coaching call, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you need help improving your management core? From strategic planning to employee engagement, manager training, leadership coaching, to organizational compliance, I help organizations become better.