Why The Smartest People Ask For Advice + 6 Ways To Do It Well

Why The Smartest People Ask For Advice + 6 Ways To Do It Well Hero Image
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Something triggered discomfort in you—it might be something big, or it might be something little that just feels big. Whatever the case, you can’t stop thinking about it. You feel like you might need to make a change in your habits or your approach to certain dynamics, but you don't know how. You finally decide to ask your best friend what they think. But really, you just want them to tell you you’re not crazy for thinking what you think.

When our friends validate what we’re already thinking, it feels so much better than when they tell us what to do (how dare they judge?!). But if our friends tell us what they think we want to hear rather than what we need to hear, we stay on the hamster wheel, never escaping the negative patterns we've set up.

Our natural tendency is to reject advice that isn’t consistent with our plans or thinking. But, quite often, the most valuable tool for life improvement is learning to be open to different perspectives—considering our situation from points of view that we might instinctively resist out of fear. Here are some tips for opening your mind to the wisdom you might subconsciously be afraid to hear.

1. Repeat this mantra: "My name is _______ and I don't have all the answers."

Get comfortable admitting you don’t always know the answers. Research shows that we’re reluctant to say “I don’t know” even when we’re incentivized to do so. We perceive a psychological penalty that doesn’t exist. Adulting is hard; you’re not supposed to have all the answers.

2. Know that only smart people ask for advice.

People are often hesitant to ask for help or advice because we think it will make us look incapable—like we don’t have the mental resources to figure it out on our own. Research proves us wrong: people who seek out information and new ideas are perceived as more competent—especially when the task at hand is difficult. Adulting is hard, remember? The struggle is real.

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3. Help others help you.

Give your advisers what they need to give you good advice. A good party host tells guests what they're celebrating, where the party is, and when to show up. To get good advice, describe your situation with enough detail to prevent too much back and forth. Use emotional words to describe the situation rather than letting people make assumptions about how you feel in a given situation.

Anchor the conversation by defining what you're considering. Lastly, specify the type of advice you want: action-based (what to do) or perception-based (what they think/whether or not they think you're right to feel the way you feel).

4. Some pain, some gain.

Expect to tolerate some challenges. As good as it feels to avoid pain or the perceived burden of bringing your friends into your complicated situation, there is evidence that short-term difficulties can lead to more desirable outcomes long term. Learning and memory studies show that learning incrementally over time rather than cramming, or learning everything in one circumstance, in one sitting, actually enhances learning and retention over the long term.

5. Ask a stranger first.

If you don’t have the courage to ask a friend, do some research on yourself by asking strangers first. Our self-perception is always biased, and asking a stranger requires less vulnerability than asking someone whose opinion of you you actually care about. Although they lack the benefit of knowing your habits or knowing the people involved, they are sure to have an objective opinion.

A recent study showed that communicating via text with strangers has the potential to reduce the amount of pain medication surgical patients requested during recovery.

6. Remind your friends that if they "see something," they should "say something."

Encourage your friends to point out your blind spots. Ask them to present a piece of information and share a perspective you haven’t considered. A growing body of research in personality psychology suggests that others are actually more accurate in rating certain aspects of ourselves than we are—especially when the traits in question are highly visible and evaluative, like humor or attractiveness.

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