Why you don’t listen to good advice
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And a quick note: I’ve been sending this newsletter out on Wednesday mornings. Given that the next two Wednesdays are holidays, I’ll send out one issue on 12/28 instead — so be on the lookout for it.
This week: Why we ignore good advice
For a long time, I didn’t listen to anyone. Not my parents, teachers, coaches, or managers. It’s not that I didn’t respect them, but I simply didn’t listen. They had answers, and I was, in my younger years, a brick wall.
I remember coming to the realization at soccer practice one day when I was a teenager. I had gone through the motions at practice for years, but never actually listened to what my coach was trying to teach us.
And one day, it clicked. I started listening and following his directions, with intent. Then I realized that other people had answers — or wisdom, or advice — that I wasn’t taking, either. I noticed it in just about everyone else, too.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been on the other side of it, too. I can tell my friends or family members what to do in a given circumstance, usually because it’s something I’ve dealt with, and they completely ignore what I had to say.
Why is that? Why are we hard-wired to ignore sound advice, een when we ask for it?
There can be a number of reasons for that, and sometimes, we need to ignore good advice due to external factors — Alanis Morisette knew all about it. But more often than not, at least in my case, the advice is accepted, acknowledged, and never acted upon.
Why is that? And is there a way to be more cognizant of when we’re disregarding the help people are giving us?
In today’s issue:
1. Why we disregard good advice
2. How to accept good advice when you hear it
3. Be careful when giving others advice
1. “No puppet. No puppet. You’re the puppet.”
One reason people don’t take advice? They don’t like to feel like they’re being controlled, even to a slight degree. And sometimes, we feel like we’re indebted to those who give us some direction.
From David A. Garvin and Joshua D. Margolis in Harvard Business Review:
“Those who give advice effectively wield soft influence—they shape important decisions while empowering others to act. As engaged listeners, they can also learn a lot from the problems that people bring them. And the rule of reciprocity is a powerful binding force: Providing expert advice often creates an implicit debt that recipients will want to repay.”
We want to do things for ourselves, by ourselves. Letting others have a say in it can be unsettling. For that reason, we may be disregarding good advice either consciously or unconsciously.
The takeaway: Some people don’t like to take advice because they feel like they’re being influenced or controlled — and resent it.
2. What determines whether you’ll accept advice
Researchers from Harvard, Duke, and the University of Washington published a study in 2012 identifying the three key factors that determine whether someone will accept advice:
The price paid to get the advice
The expertise of the advice-giver
In short, we might disregard good advice if our emotions get in the way (somebody tells you to break up with your significant other, but you refuse to). You’re more likely to listen to advice if it was difficult to get (say Jeff Bezos responded to your email after months of waiting), and more likely to accept it if it comes from an authority figure, like a doctor telling you how to treat a sprained ankle.
With all of this in mind, it seems that we’re hard-wired to ignore advice. Unless we really know we should be listening, like to Bezos or a heart surgeon.
The takeaway: Many people default to ignoring advice, unless it comes from an expert. Emotions, too, can cause us to ignore good advice.
3. Feel the power
A 2018 study found that giving advice makes people feel more powerful. It makes sense, too; You’re in a position of power, doling out knowledge and wisdom on someone who is seeking direction.
But be careful, as that feeling can be addicting:
“Advice giving is an interpersonal behavior that enhances individuals’ sense of power and..those who seek power are motivated to engage in advice giving,” write the researchers.
“Two of our studies further demonstrate that people with a high tendency to seek power are more likely to give advice than those with a low tendency. This research establishes advice giving as a subtle route to a sense of power, shows that the desire to feel powerful motivates advice giving, and highlights the dynamic interplay between power and advice.”
So, giving advice makes us feel good — sometimes, a little too good. Keep that in mind if others are asking for your thoughts.
The takeaway: If you’re a parent, older sibling, mentor, or just someone who’s found a degree of success in life, people are going to look to you for advice. Be helpful — and don’t get all Machiavellian on them.
An interesting thing I heard this week:
Despite what you’ve heard, it may be better to lease than buy — especially when it comes to cars. Talking to an auto expert this week, he told me that cars are a money pit; But leasing lets you keep your options open, and avoid costly repairs and maintenance charges.
What I’ve been writing about:
I wrote an explainer about gold and precious metals, and why they’ve been a staple investment for thousands of years.
Brand-new and redesigned cars tend to have more issues than late-stage models. So, maybe hold off on buying that 2020 Supra.
If you want to check those articles out and share them, I’d appreciate it.
That’s all for now. Keep fighting the good fight.
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