Recently I’ve come to realize that one bad habit I’ve developed is I dislike asking people for advice unless I can’t figure it out myself. With two simple tools–Google and a laptop–I figure I can do the research myself, collect all the relevant data points, and come to a reasonable and logical conclusion independently. This technique is quick, simple, accessible, and—the main reason I stick with it—it usually works wonderfully well.
If you are like me you may be thinking there’s nothing wrong with this. Indeed, going it alone can be the right move when you are seeking more information or need step-by-step directions for a fairly straightforward task. In this case, you are seeking a solution directly. But there are situations in life and work when the search engines, and the results they provide, are not good enough. In his book Advice is for Winners, author Raul Valdes-Perez points this out and highlights six other by-products of seeking advice:
You may receive a referral to (1) an individual you don’t know, (2) a document you didn’t know existed, or (3) insider knowledge and exclusive opinions not publicly available. An advisor can highlight potential roadblocks or obstacles you might face. You may also be advised to take actions you never would have considered otherwise.
After talking with someone, you may get a new perspective on your problem. You may realize the solution looks different that you imagined. You may find a root cause to address instead. You may even be prompted to change your goal!
After a failure, do you second guess yourself? Getting a second opinion—from outside your head—can provide validation for the course of action you have chosen to take and re-energize you with newfound confidence. An advisor can assist with decision-making by confirming your plan makes sense or sharing a success story.
When someone provides advice, they become more deeply involved and, in turn, motivated to see you succeed. It works both ways—you also become accountable for either following or dismissing the advice and especially for taking action. Recall that asking for advice (consultation) can be an influence tactic, if it’s authentic and not merely a manipulative move.
The advisor’s credibility, expertise, and experience finally makes everything click. The advice itself might be generic—freely available in blogs, articles, books, etc. The advice may have been previously given by family members, a spouse, or friends. But someone with credibility can create a compelling case or share a story that finally provides the inspiration to act. In this case it’s not the advice, but who it comes from.
Even if the practice of advice-seeking results nothing useful in terms of solutions, the experience of advice-seeking creates an interaction with a positive result. People generally like to give advice and they like to be asked to give advice so it’s not really a burden to them. You are having a meaningful discussion with someone you hold in high regard professionally. In this way, you are building social capital with your network.