On Giving Advice

When someone asks you for advice or counsel, there are generally three ways to respond – you should always try to do the third one which is simply telling the truth.

Poor guy…

So, here we have someone that I’ve known for ~4 years or so and we’ve probably met 2 dozen times, at least, over the last 4 years.

Consequently, we have a little bit of a platform in each other’s life and he’s a bit younger than me so I guess I’ve performed a mentor-ship-ish role (everyone should have one or two, btw).

But, anyways, there are three ways that I’ve answered questions from folks in the past when they are asking for advice:

  1. I lied. This is also the most common way to answer a request for advice and counsel and what most folks do. You effectively just make something up that generally sounds “good” and is in fact so general in nature that it’s hard to qualifiable contradict or find fault with it. But, it’s entirely self-serving, disingenuous, and it paints you as a liar, which is the appropriate because… well, you lied and didn’t actually tell them the truth. This can be easy to spot as an outsider but it’s much harder to recognize in-the-moment, especially if you’re the one on the receiving end. It goes without saying: Don’t do this. I no longer do this, ever.
  2. I told half-truths. Essentially this is where you give folks advice that is no longer useful or relevant, especially if you’re being asked about stuff that you did many, many years ago. I see this all the time and it makes me absolutely sick to my stomach, because, it not only puffs up the one who’s dispensing this bullshit advice but it also leaves the listener in a worse place. The point is this: Expertise is time-bound and if you’ve been “out of the game” for a while then your advice is probably just as much “out of touch” and irrelevant as you might dare to imagine. If one does offer up some counsel you should heavily “salt it” and make sure folks don’t get the wrong idea that you’re still “a player”. I used to do this a lot more but now I’m woke and I won’t give advice to someone if I haven’t personally dealt with that particular issue recently (within the last year or two… maybe). Questions around “finding a girlfriend” or “starting my first company” fall into this category because I did those nearly 2 decades ago.
  3. Tell the truth. This is my default setting now and I just tell folks plainly if I think I have something worth considering (rare) or I just tell them that I don’t have much advice or counsel to give and I especially call out the fact that any advice that I could give will most likely be contextually old and outdated. I tell folks often to “take this with a big grain of salt” so they can better formulate their own thoughts around the topic at hand and not lean so heavily into what they might think is objectively “good” advice. This also saves me a lot of time too and it keeps my conscience clean, which is important at the end of the day.

If you’re a coach or a mentor and have a platform in someone’s life, it’s important for you to never forget how important and powerful that platform can be – you can quite literally direct someone’s very path and their life as a result of what you say (or don’t say). We all need to take that very, very seriously.

Words have meaning and words have power. In the context of a trusted relationship, you can either perform surgery with your counsel or you can hit them with it like a blunt object.

It’s up to you.