Getting and Giving Advice: Who to Ask, Frame the Question

We’re back with more thoughts and suggestions regarding how to navigate the matter of business advice, giving or receiving.  Previous posts have explored how to effectively give advice and the importance of using tact when advice is offered.  In this post, we’ll examine how to obtain business advice for ourselves.  As you might guess, it’s a delicate process.

Getting and Giving Advice: Skill Set

Getting and Giving Advice: Tact

First, if you are in need of advice, then there is either a problem or an opportunity that you must address (or ignore).  You are concerned and maybe even scared.  You are stressed and making decisions when stressed is seldom a good idea.  Stress impairs judgment and therefore increases the potential for an undesirable outcome.  Nevertheless, you recognize that another perspective could help you to sort things out. Who are you going to trust?

Yes, trust is a big factor when seeking advice. You must trust that person’s expertise and since confidentiality is likely involved, you must feel confident in the person’s ethics and practice of discretion.  You do not want someone who is unqualified to give the advice and neither do you want your private affairs indiscriminately shared.

Let’s start by helping you to identify a good advice prospect.  You may know more than one person who appears to own the experience and expertise that should make him/ her a good candidate,  but who should you approach?  Here are guidelines to assist your decision.

First, avoid asking someone who has competitive advantages that are significantly beyond your reach. If the person is prone to unusually good luck, or has a wealthy and influential family or spouse, then do not ask the individual for advice.  S/he may have built a highly profitable business, but because fate smiles on all of his/her endeavors,  s/he has faced no real obstacles.  Such persons cannot solve problems, because they’ve never had the need to do so.  They’ve never borne the consequences of either bad luck or their mistakes.

Second, look a little more at how the prospect has garnered  success.  Whether it was a fast climb to the top or slow, someone who has taken an unusual path has probably encountered an array of unexpected obstacles and opportunities that had to be conquered or exploited along the way.  Of necessity, that person has challenged assumptions, rethought the status quo and has the courage to move forward  when more conventional types might hesitate. As a result, that person has learned to be quite resourceful and could have real wisdom to share with you.

Next, confirm your advice prospect’s expertise in your area of need.  Just because someone has climbed the corporate ladder or built a million dollar plus company does not mean that the person is an expert in all disciplines.  A talent for strategy development is probably a strong point across the board,  but most people are strongest in either finance, operations, sales or marketing. Further, it’s been my observation that the intelligence possessed by computer geeks is very deep and very narrow, rendering them useful for IT questions only.  I would be reluctant to trust many of them to go the grocery store to buy bread and milk in a snowstorm.

Now, let’s consider the right way to ask for the advice.  As the late management guru Peter Drucker noted,  one will not find the fight answer unless the right question is asked.  Advice experts recommend that you NOT ask your prospect what you should do in your situation,  because s/he may get insulted if you decide to ignore their advice and follow another route.  Instead, ask if s/he has ever faced a situation like yours and if so, what did s/he do or say in response?

WRONG: “I feel that a big wholesaler is being unfair about the payment terms extended to me. What should I do”?

RIGHT:     ” Have you ever dealt with a big wholesaler who you felt was unfair about the payment terms extended to you? Were you able to do anything about it”?

Finally, you need access to your preferred advice candidate. It’s preferable to approach someone you are already acquainted with and that is the best reason for taking the time to establish business and social relationships.  The person who can most effectively guide you might be in the gym with you,  or at church, or at the lunch table at a symposium. Asking for detailed advice from someone you’ve just shaken hands with is awkward.

Ask your advice question, beginning with your clarifying question to verify expertise, in person if possible.  Your specific advice question can be asked in a follow-up telephone call if there is no time to address it on the spot, or if privacy is an issue.  Good luck!

Thanks for reading,





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