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How to take advice by Jeremy Thorn

Jeremy Thorn

Jeremy Thorn

What was the best ‘incidental advice’ you ever had recently, that stopped you in your tracks?

Not just the great ‘life-changing’ advice we can all look back on and share with others later.  Nor even all the grand tips of relevant good business practice, setting personal goals, managing work-life balance or building great relationships.  But something that made you take a step back for a moment that may even have seemed quite unimportant at the time?

Receiving any advice is at least as difficult as offering it.  But taking apparently ‘incidental advice’ is probably the hardest of all.  We didn’t ask for it, we weren’t expecting it and we didn’t even know we might value it.

Some thoughts on taking advice…

Of course, the best advice we might ever receive depends on our own personal circumstances – its relevance and timing for our perceived needs, almost certainly the credibility of its source, and above all our readiness to receive it.

Sometimes, we may tuck really good advice away for another time, and only realise its full wisdom much later.  On other occasions, even the most valuable and best-intentioned advice will be wasted if we aren’t of a mind to listen to it.  (Did you ever catch yourself thinking: “If I want your advice, I’ll ask for it, thank you!”?)

It is often helpful to recognise good advice can come to us in all manner of different guises.  They might may range anywhere between:

–     an apparently innocent question, such as any good coach might ask. (For example: “Does this work as well for you as you would like?”, “Did you explore any other possibilities?”; “Why did you choose this option?”);

–          a subtle hint: (such as: “That’s an interesting approach”, or “I used to do it that way”) – implying there may be a better way, but inviting further exploration if only we had been smart enough to ask;

–          a tentative suggestion: (eg: “Have you ever thought of XYZ”) – which may more clearly invite a discussion of alternatives;

–          a personal recommendation: (eg: “I have found that …”; “Give Sue a ring” – or even the opposite: “I wouldn’t ask Fred!”);

–          a direct injunction: (eg: “If I were you, I would…”);
and even more unhelpfully,

–          a personal attack: (“The trouble with you is …”;  “You ought to know better by now…”, or even, “You must be mad to …”) – at which perhaps we might all take offence.

Because so much advice can appear so unappetisingly ‘parental’ if delivered maladroitly, most especially if it is unsolicited, perhaps it is no wonder that most of us waste a huge amount of others’ really useful thoughts in our lifetimes because they were delivered by the wrong person, in the wrong way or perhaps at the wrong time.

Accordingly, five tips…

I come from a long family-tradition of both giving advice and, more especially, resisting that of others!  (If you have children, or aging relatives, perhaps you too?)

But I have valued the following thoughts, in case you might too.  (Not advice!  Just tips…)

  • We don’t know what we don’t know.  (It is rarely too late to find out!)
  • If we don’t ask, we may never find out. (It costs so little to ask, and sometimes a lot more not to!)
  • Taking good advice, from any source, is just as skilled a task as giving it.
  • We can always learn from observing others give great advice, to offer the same for others.
  • And helping others so often encourages them to help us.

What goes around, comes around!

The best ‘incidental advice’ I have most welcomed?

At least one of the most powerful pieces of ‘incidental advice’ that I have been truly grateful for arose from being asked how I spend my time. But the intention was not as you might expect.

It wasn’t to encourage me to ‘focus on the important rather than the urgent’ – as any Time-Management workshop will tell you, great advice though that might be.  It wasn’t to ‘clarify your objectives first’, ‘spend more time on your most important relationships’ or ‘safeguard your health and sanity’ – none of which any of us might disagree with.

It was to spend more time on myself.

Not self-indulgently, not even for ‘self-development’ (which has always been a life-time passion of mine – and perhaps yours too given you are reading this?).  Rather, it was to find enough time to look after all my private administrative affairs that I meant to look at later and never seemed to find enough time for, while so busily looking after all the business matters that inevitably took my priority of attention.

For me, this was a wake-up call to manage really rather ‘boring’ issues, like my own and my family’s money, banking, insurances, will, domestic purchases and pension fund concerns.

For any busy executive, it is so easy to worry about such issues for our organisation at work, and so easy to forget our own at home.  You’ll probably know what it is like!

Could this ‘incidental advice’ help you too?

Jeremy Thorn is a Non-Executive Director/Board Advisor of several successful high-growth companies.  Having been the Managing Director of a large international engineering company, he then set up and developed his own successful nationwide consultancy which he then sold to its management. An experienced executive leadership coach and author of several prize-winning management books, he is a frequent workshop facilitator and speaker for the Academy for Chief Executives and several professional Institutes. His private passion is for developing successful organisations and their senior managers to achieve their full potential. See his website
As part of the Academy Community, professional speakers, such as Jeremy, witness first hand the power of leaders learning with leaders.  The Academy process, experiential business learning, provides a unique environment for CEOs and MDs to hear how other leaders are developing their businesses and themselves, and how they are motivating their own people.  For more information visit
Copyright Jeremy Thorn, 2010

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