The Surprising Value of Unsolicited Advice


My mother can be a negative person. If I say, “Business is great,” her response is, “Well, what if the economy takes another downturn?” This is exactly why some people never listen to unsolicited advice—they don’t want to be bothered with what they’re not even looking for.

But if you only accept solicited advice, you may be missing a gold mine from somebody who has something to share. My mom’s warnings have actually served me well, especially given that I can be a glass-half-full kind of guy. Her rather pessimistic perspective has helped me to be better prepared for difficulties and has ultimately helped me to build a robust business. She has helped me see things that I would have missed on my own, and here’s the clincher: she has never run a business.

With this in mind, I am suggesting that you be a sponge. Accept all advice and wring out later what you choose to discard. Of course, this takes confidence and requires wisdom and judgment about what to retain. After all, some people do not have the best of intentions. They may have hidden agendas or may be acting passive-aggressively, so you need to be able to see through this and not get rattled. But honestly this should not be a big worry.

The big worry is just the opposite, in fact. Most people suffer from a lack of feedback rather than too much of it. It’s much more common to hear people complain about being surprised and blindsided; they wish others had told them certain things. We need to hear about what other people see, so we don’t end up with an unpleasant surprise.

Advice and feedback is hard for many people to give, so it’s unlikely you’ll be overwhelmed by too much anyway. If you set parameters like, “I’m willing to hear anything as long as it is said in a respectful manner,” you may miss out on some important feedback. Some people interpret “being respectful” as “not hurting your feelings.” Better to let everyone know you want feedback and deal with those results (maybe some hurt feelings on your part) than the alternative of not hearing what you need to hear.

If you live your life by only getting advice from those you solicit or deem worthy, you are closing yourself off from things that you don’t even know you could know. You even need to hear from those people who you might be tempted to say, “What do they know? They don’t even understand what I am going through.” Those are precisely the ones you need to hear from. They can often provide a truly objective point of view because they don’t know your perspective or back story.

Years ago, after listening to me ramble on about what I do, my teenage nephew said, “Uncle Steve, basically what you do is help people get along better.” And thus was born a key marketing message—from someone with no marketing or business knowledge at all.

People who are open to outside perspectives hear problems sooner so they can act on them before they become big problems. With feedback and advice, these people bounce back from setbacks faster, and they are always growing since they are constantly learning.

Be a sponge. Create an environment where all feedback is welcome. This way you get to decide what to retain and act on.

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