In a world saturated with information and self-proclaimed experts, it can be challenging to know whose advice is worth heeding. This dilemma isn’t universal; some people prefer to rely solely on their intuition or existing knowledge. However, if you’re someone who finds value in seeking outside opinions for critical decisions or testing your ideas, the question remains: How do you choose who to listen to?
I recently attended a meeting where a discussion began about whom to listen to and how to select individuals whose advice is worth considering. In the modern age, we are bombarded by people who share their thoughts online, give advice in interviews, podcasts, and YouTube channels. And yes, I realize the irony as I sit here, typing away my own unsolicited advice 😀 So, in this sea of self-proclaimed experts, how do you minimize the risk of taking bad, harmful advice that could lead to undesirable outcomes?
In the course of this conversation, I suggested that when looking for someone whose advice you want to take, consider three main aspects:
- their knowledge
- their experience
- their values—or their relationship with you
Firstly, Knowledge. You want to ensure that the person you are considering listening to is well-informed in the subject matter. Their knowledge should come from scholarly works, books, or conversations with other experts in the field. In essence, you want to rely on someone who has gathered or accumulated a body of knowledge on the subject.
Secondly, Experience. It’s crucial that the person has had hands-on experience in the area of interest. Academic or bookish knowledge alone isn’t enough. It’s important that the individual has had the opportunity to make decisions—or to experience the benefits or consequences of decisions—in a real-world setting.
Thirdly, Values and Attitude towards you. If you know the person, it’s beneficial to understand their relationship with you. Family members may be more or less supportive, depending on the dynamics. If the person is an outsider, pay attention to their values or background. Investigate their past decisions, especially if they historically made recommendations that were financially beneficial to them.
What we’re ideally looking for is someone balanced in these three areas. Why? We don’t want a person who is merely academic, drawing only from scholarly works and research papers, as these often don’t fully capture the nuances of real-world scenarios. We also want the individual to filter academic knowledge through their experiences, enabling them to offer advice that is not just theoretically sound but practically applicable.
To make this advice as useful—or at least as harmless—as possible, it should come from someone who is knowledgeable, experienced, and either positively disposed towards us or at least shares similar values and ethical principles. In covering these three areas, there’s a greater likelihood that the advice we receive will resonate with us, align with our values, and offer practical applications in our lives.
As a final note, it’s worth mentioning that effective communication is an additional asset when seeking advice. No matter how knowledgeable or experienced someone is, if they can’t convey their insights in a manner that’s easy to understand and tailored to the recipient, the value of their advice diminishes. Ideally, look for individuals who not only excel in knowledge, experience, and shared values but also in the art of communication. It enhances the transfer of wisdom, making your search for advice even more fruitful.
P.S.: Beware of those who are exceptionally good at communication but lack substance in knowledge and experience. If you also have reservations about their values, then it’s not just a matter of not seeking their advice; you should actively stay away. Their persuasive communication skills can dangerously mask their inadequacies, making them potentially the most harmful people to listen to.