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Neither give nor ask advice


Neither give nor ask advice

"But isn't that advice when you say 'neither give nor ask advice'?"

Some might take it as such. I don't intend it as advice.

I intend it to be taken as a hypothesis to be vetted (by you) using reason and evidence to determine whether it would be a helpful guideline for you in creating and supporting the life you want.

"As a life coach, isn't it your job to give your clients good advice?"

The idea of "advice" lives inside the House of Good and Bad. It presumes an agreed upon standard of good and bad, right and wrong. It also presupposes that we each have the right and responsibility to inform others what it takes to live their life inside of that standard, thereby assuring approval and avoiding disapproval, at least from the advice giver.

In my coaching, even if I tell a client something like, "You should focus on just listening to her," this is not advice. The client has already told me that he wants to create a more harmonious relationship with his  wife. He's already shared with me some details about how their conversations often devolve into blame and defensiveness. He's already given me permission to ask him questions, consider some possible new information, suggest new ways of looking at things, and propose new behaviors to experiment with. And all of this is within the context of specific results which he has specified that he wants and that I am his partner in helping him find ways to better move toward those results.

None of what I say to him is advice. He must assess for himself whether whatever I say fits and makes sense for him regarding his intended results.

At times, it may seem that I'm asking for advice, but I never am. I am looking for information...

  • "Would you tell me what I should do here?" I ask my assistant, knowing that she's probably aware of what I might do to get a given intended result that I want.

  • "Would you give me a 0-10 score on how honest I occur for you?" I ask my girlfriend, looking for information that might assist me in knowing how I could make our relationship even better.

  • I might even ask someone, "What advice would you give me if you were in my shoes?" Yes, I'm using the word "advice" as a prelude to ask further "why" questions that may give me insights into making the best decisions for myself regarding some area of my life. Whatever actions I end up taking may or may not match the "advice" that was given.

  • When the stewardess on the plane advises me to "fasten my seatbelt," I don't consider that advice. I take it as an informational reminder of the possible safety benefits of doing so and the fact that, if I don't fasten my seatbelt, I may be subject to some enforcement consequences that I would want to avoid.

  • When the doctor at the hospital informs me of her diagnosis and treatment regarding some presenting symptoms, if I defer to her judgment (with or without doing additional research), I am not "taking her advice." Instead, I'm assessing many confounding factors and deciding that the best course of action happens to align with her advice.

Why do we seek out and take the advice of others?

One of my Chinese friends decided on a new life direction based upon what she thought would excite her. But then she asked one of her friends what he thought of her decision. He gave her some reasons why he didn't think it was a good idea. She knew about these "reasons" before she asked for his opinion and thought she made a decision to go ahead anyway. Yet, upon listening to her friend, she became confused and indecisive. Why? 

Because she was wanting to reduce her sense of risk by having someone else agree with her. She wanted reassurance that she was not "making a mistake" and created the fantasy that someone else would be in a better position than she was to give that added sense of safety. And when her friend didn't provide the validation she was looking for and ended doing the opposite, then her own conviction about her own assessment fell apart.


She may have also wanted advance knowledge that other(s) were going to approve of her new course of action (or at least not disapprove of it). She, like many of us, wanted to pawn off on others the responsibility for making the choices for her life, especially the more consequential ones.

As with almost all decisions where we are trying to reduce the sense of risk in our decisions beyond a certain point, we end of creating more risky circumstances.

Who's business is your business? Who's business is their business?

When you're giving advice to others, you're in their business, which will complicate you taking care of your own business. If you take the advice of others when it doesn't fit with your own assessment of what's best for you, then you're abrogating your responsibility to take care of your own business.

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