During our journey in the work world and throughout our career we receive a significant amount of advice. Even though some advice is welcomed and wanted, a significant amount is given even when unsolicited. Professional advice is even more noticed at times when a person is thrust into the lime light of success or is left holding the bag of failure.
Whether it is the generic variety of “I knew you could do it” and “I had a feeling you were going to fail” or the more specific type that addresses key achievements or shortcomings, it is up to us to try and figure out how to take that advice in and decide how it might impact us.
One thing that I learned in my own career is that sometimes the most beneficial advice is not that flowery compliment that we receive from people, but the honest critique of our performance with the aim of offering nuggets of wisdom. Indeed sometimes it is hard to take in negative feedback, however, empty praise is significantly less helpful as it tells us what we already know.
I don’t want to seem as though I am suggesting that people should stop giving compliments, on the contrary. However, advice is particularly useful when it is provided with the intent of assisting the person improve performance or advance their career. More recently, when I was writing my book Sidestep Complexity I invited several individuals to provide feedback throughout the process. All of the individuals were people who I greatly respected and admired. They offered encouraging remarks to let me know that I was on the right path. However, there was one individual who offered a unique type of feedback. After reading the manuscript this person provided detailed notes about different sections of the book with recommendations on how to improve it. In one comment this person even highlighted that my attempt at a joke may come across as offensive and offered alternative wording. While all the feedback was very much appreciated, I know that this person in particular offered the type of feedback that turned my manuscript into a better book. This person helped me become a better professional.
That’s the type of advice that we need to seek, even if it sometimes seems as though the advice is coming our way unsolicited. In the example I mentioned above about the book, the advisor was extremely talented at offering feedback in a “matter-of-fact” way, without making judgements, but with an eye for improving the work product.
Unfortunately we can not always expect that valuable advice come from trusted colleagues and in a diplomatic manner. However, we have to be careful not to ignore valuable advice because might feel slighted by the advisor or trash the advice because we may dislike that person. We have to become good at filtering out the information and separating it from the person. Once we do that we can judge the information we’re receiving on its own merit, independent of feelings that might get our ego in the way.
In the end taking in advice is a process that we have to work through to figure out how to integrate trust and critique in a manner that makes us better professionals.