Our Weird Hang-up About Taking Advice
Work + Life Balance

Our Weird Hang-up About Taking Advice

by Jessie Hunter
Photos Jen Brister | November 18, 2015

WHY DO WE HAVE SUCH A HARD TIME ABOUT TAKING ADVICE, EVEN WHEN WE KNOW SOMEONE'S RIGHT? 

The phenomenon of perfectly good advice going unused is a tale as old as time, and yet one that remains largely unexplained. People are quick to give advice, whether solicited or otherwise, but we mostly receive their recommendations with trepidation. There’s an actual term for this phenomenon, where we’re able to wisely assess the situations of others but not our own: the Solomon Paradox. {Click to Tweet}

Based on this tendency, The Data Freaks team at Forbes.com ran their own survey trying to untangle the question of why we give great advice to others but can’t take it ourselves. Respondents were given a scenario where they learned someone had cheated in their relationship. In Group A the cheater was the respondent’s own partner, while in Group B it was the partner of a friend. The results were staggering: Group A, in thinking of themselves, were 22% less interested in learning more information about the situation, 31% less likely to consider multiple perspectives, and 15% less willing to consider a compromise than their Group B counterparts.

Advice, when given with sincerity and candor, is a way of sharing life experiences.

Three primary barriers lie in the way of taking the advice that can further our careers, improve our relationships, or simply make life easier—perspective, ego, and responsibility.

PERSPECTIVE

Why would Groups A and B in the Solomon Paradox study differ so much? Surely we don’t think what’s best for others is so different from what’s best for ourselves. When considering how a friend should proceed in an ugly situation like infidelity, though, we naturally acknowledge our own limits. We know that there’s much we don’t know. When we are self-examining, there isn’t a third party stance forcing us to acknowledge the limits of our knowledge. We are in our own heads, and as such we assume we must have everything we need in order to make clear and concise judgments on our own. We’re less likely to approach self-advice as critically.

EGO

There are many hypotheses we could throw out regarding why we’re so resistant to taking advice, but some of the blame lies in the power our egos hold. {Click to Tweet} In order to accept—let alone act on—the advice of others, we must first admit that we don’t have all the answers.

Our egos wrap us up like winter coats, insulating our squishy, sensitive hearts and protecting us from harm. When we’re offered external, albeit sage guidance, we’re reticent to shed the protective layer. We suffer from our own insulation.

Our egos wrap us up like winter coats, insulating our squishy, sensitive hearts and protecting us from harm.

RESPONSIBILITY

Responsibility also weighs heavily when considering someone’s advice. We are less likely to accept advice when we don’t want to share credit for the outcome of the decision we make. Who hasn’t had experienced a relationship in turmoil? Although we know the gut-wrenching misery of a dying relationship or a floundering job is an all too common feeling,  we aren’t necessarily eager to seek out the guidance of those around us. We want to own our decision on how to proceed wholly.

Advice, when given with sincerity and candor, is a way of sharing life experiences. It helps us avoid the fraught process of having to make mistakes to find our way. Sharing information and perspectives is what pushes our collective abilities forward.

We are left to our own devices to determine how we’ll will go about acknowledging our own limits, shedding our egos, and sharing responsibility. There’s no silver bullet when it comes to opening our hearts and minds to others’ suggestions. But as we make the effort to listen and act on great advice, there’s no telling what we can do.

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How have you opened yourself to great advice? Did it bring you any insights?