Be prepared to take the advice you ask for

I dove in with great sincerity and good intentions to give her my honest insight and perspective. The dismissal felt like a bucket of cold water in the face.

Female with hands over her ears

Some time ago a young woman whom I had known and worked with for some time came to my office asking for advice. She described how a new role had become available in the company and she was interested in applying for it. She wanted to know what I thought about the opportunity in terms of her skill and ability and if I thought that she should apply. I thought for only a few seconds and told her that she should not apply or consider making a move at this time. I said that she was only now beginning to do her current job well and that she should continue in the role until she could demonstrate a level of mastery in executing it. I went on to say that if she left at that point she would be skimming the role and would never develop deep expertise, something that was in itself a skill to acquire.

What about job mastery?

I was clearly off base, because she let me know that, in fact, she would be applying for the role so that she could broaden her skill base and experience. I repeated my point about getting to mastery in her current role after only recently beginning to do an acceptable job, but it was clear that her mind was made up. Sometime later the announcement came out that she had not just applied for the role, but she had won the competition for the new position.

Unwelcome advice

I have a couple of observations about the experience with this young woman:

  • When she approached me I heard the request for advice and reacted to it. It was only when she quickly dismissed my input that I realized that she had no interest in my advice walking in the door – this encounter was most likely contrived to inform me of her desire to apply and gain my support in case that might help her.
  • My advice about getting to mastery was unwelcome. When my advice didn’t follow the script that she had in mind, she didn’t even consider that I might have some relevant advice that could help her career. The speed with which she blurted out her intentions and the non-engagement on my points were clear indicators that most likely she was not even listening to my points.

I was immediately regretful that I had offered any advice to her. In the spirit of helping, I had dropped my normally reflexive guard that popped up when anyone asked for advice. Against my better judgement, I dove in with great sincerity and good intentions to give her my honest insight and perspective. The dismissal felt like a bucket of cold water in the face. It reinforced my predisposition against giving advice.

My advice to anyone seeking advice – be prepared to take the advice you ask for.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.