I hear women say the word “advice” all the time. We want mentors who can give us advice. Advice-gathering is one of the first steps we take when starting a new project. In the women’s online discussion groups I am a part of, in the vast majority of the posts, a woman asks the group for advice, rather than for other kinds of support.

What’s wrong with that?

Women have been told a million times and in a million ways that the answers lie outside of them – in the right book, degree program, expert’s opinion. The subtle message is that the answer comes from a canon of knowledge developed largely by men, based on a man’s experience of the world.

Because we’re relationship oriented, we also often reach out for advice when a new calling feels scary or is outside our comfort zones. What we are looking for isn’t really advice, but a kind of reassurance that we aren’t crazy, that the path we are on is okay.

I don’t mean to beat us up for that. When we get scared, it’s natural to look into the eyes of others for reassurance. When we don’t want to make the wrong decision, it’s natural to look for guidance from those we respect. But maybe there’s a better way to honor those longings within us.

When we ask another person for advice, we’re essentially asking him or her, “What do you think I should do?” But no other person, no matter how brilliant or successful, knows what you should do. They’ve got their own path in life, their own unhealed disappointments, their own subjective view. They might know a good solution for you, but not necessarily the one that you are ready for or that fits with your particular makeup.

Today I want to share with you a few alternative kinds of conversations, ways we can honor our desire to engage with others, but that are – in my experience – more respectful to yourself and more helpful than advice:

Ask for their story & lessons learned. That means saying, “Here’s my situation. Have you faced anything like that? What did you do and what did you learn?” That way, what the other person is sharing is contextualized appropriately as what it is: their experience, not a prescription for yours.

Ask for information. Ask them for relevant information. “Do you know anything about this market/employer/investor/industry (whatever is relevant in the situation) that I should be aware of as I navigate this?”

Ask for a brainstorming session. “Would you be up for brainstorming some different directions with me? I’d love an outside perspective on the possibilities to explore.” Engaging a fresh, outside perspective to generate new ideas and help you challenge assumptions is a great use of conversation – and it’s very different from asking your conversation partner to choose the right direction for you.

Ask, Can you help me clarify where I’m at with this? There are few relationship-blessings as great as those in which you can actually say to that friend or family member, “Help me figure out what I’m already thinking and feeling.” In these conversations, the other person is listening, reflecting back to you what they hear, and asking a few good questions along the way. “You sound really frustrated about this – what’s the frustrating part?” or, “Is the challenge really x or is it y? I’ve heard you mention both.”

Ask them for resources, introductions, or other forms of tangible support. Note: studies show men do this a lot more than we do. They are busy getting stuff done for each other while we are giving each other advice.

What about when you are on the other side of the conversation? When you are asked for advice, you can gently steer the conversation to a more fruitful way of engaging, one that (happily) takes you out of the position of having to know the right answer.

What’s your experience been with these alternative kinds of conversations? When have you followed others’ advice that didn’t really apply to you (you later learned…)? Do you share my sense that advice-focused conversations aren’t as helpful as these other kinds, or have you experienced the opposite? I’d love to hear – if an advice-conversation has ever made a huge positive difference for you, what was it that was so helpful?




photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu

Join the discussion 22 Comments

  • Joan says:

    Wonderful suggestions and food for thought. I have always felt uncomfortable with the word ‘advice’. Too often, people give advice when it isn’t wanted. Thanks again, Tara, for your thoughts.

  • allison shayne says:

    Tara,thank you,thank you ,thank you! You are so real and genuine.Your words of wisdom so resonate with me. I give your book to everyone I know.Its very empowering on every level!!
    I was wondering if you would Please Please Please address the issue… if someone asks for my advice.I really want to be a better listener and help facilitate woman with out giving advice.I would really like to know how to ask questions to facilitate their own deep knowing…Any ideas?
    Have an amazing mindful fun moment to moment day,Ally

  • Christi says:

    Love this!

  • Sandy says:

    Dear Tara,
    thank you, it is a great reminder that the answer is within, and I cannot expect from others that they tell me what to do 🙂
    much love to you, and I am being joined with you in Mind in our transition.

  • Kathleen says:

    This is a beautiful post. Thank you for your insights. I appreciate them deeply.

  • Kaye says:

    Yes, this is a great point. I think also we need to have a stronger spiritual connection, so we can rely on trusting our inner guidance. Your points about ways to engage others to get more perspective and info. are great advice. We can learn from how men do some things and modify for us. Thanks.

  • Amy Baker says:

    Thank you, Tara. A wonderful reminder about ensuring I support my friends in a way that views them as whole and complete. It is important to remember we all have the answers to our questions within us. Holding that space for another is a powerful way to show up for them.

  • Hi Tara,

    Thank you for this wonderful post. It really does put things into context. If i were to sum it up in one phrase it would be “honour yourself, honour others and honour the journey”. Such a beautiful reminder of the impact of giving our power away and why we shouldn’t give our power away.

  • Recently I became aware of the urge to look for assurances when faced with new challenges. I love all of the recommendations. I began asking questions and having brainstorming sessions to allow me to develop my own informed decisions. Great article.

  • Louise says:

    I agree with your words of wisdom. Listening to one’s own intuition is vital to success and survival in this world. I am always mystified as to why so many women waste time asking their friends and relatives for advice on just about every subject imaginable, when the answer always lies within. Intelligent, intuitive women trust their instincts. I do recommend seeking knowledge from highly qualified individuals to use as a guide when trying to reach a conclusion on an issue.

  • Rex Mackrill says:

    This resonates so strongly with me. I feel that it is not supposed to as I am a man. But it describes how I think. I will explore this new approach.

  • Laurel says:

    Thanks Tara for some practical advice. I’ve spent the last year networking and have a love:hate relationship with it because the truth is as you say I’m not looking for generic advice but something more focused and constructive. And most people aren’t always comfortable giving advice when they aren’t in your shoes. So the conversation stalls. However Ive also found that asking for resources, introductions isn’t always productive unless you’ve done your homework and know who you want an introduction to. As always I appreciate your reminder to trust ourselves more. Your book had made such a big difference for me the last few months.

  • debbie says:

    Great post Tara. Once again I find myself nodding my head in agreement as I read your words. I’ve always thought it was an interesting conundrum that we as women (who so often thrive on connection) can sometimes get so easily caught up in the ‘co-dependency of connection’. Feeling like we need validation from others to justify our own opinions, actions or thoughts (….or heck, even to feel ok about ourselves). So often looking to someone else to confirm we got the ‘answer right’.

    I one hundred percent agree that the real answers ultimately can only come from listening to yourself.

  • MoJo says:

    I know that I have both given and received ‘bad’ advice: it’s so easy to think you know what’s best for someone else, when really your perception is coloured by your own experiences and bias. I once tried to talk a friend out of moving to a new town 15 miles away; thankfully she ignored me and is the happiest she’s ever been! I thought it would be a bad move for her, but it’s not MY life, so how could I know? I keep that experience in mind whenever I’m tempted to judge someone else’s experiences or give advice. And when I ask for advice, As debbie says above, I know that I am almost always looking for someone to validate what I know what is true or what I have already decided somewhere inside. It feels like I’m asking for permission (from friends, from colleagues, from my husband, whoever) – a follow on from wanting to be a ‘good girl’? I am observing how important it is to me for other people to ‘like’ me. I’m trying to change that to worrying about whether or not I like me and if other people respect me. A start, anyway…

  • Tara – your thoughts always seem to be timed perfectly! I echo so many sentiments of the previous posters.
    My dilemma is that when you are going through a transition ( loved your call!) and are in limbo but working through it from where you are – at what point is your seeking advice/support/direction helpful and necessary?
    I’ve had this specific question for 7 months. Before I had hit this transition limbo I had a lot of ” help” from therapist, real estate coach, assistant, personal trainer & life coach. And countless services purchased for my business. Then this phase hit ( saying goodbye phase of transitions) and I froze. I got rid of everything – mainly because I had no new clients.
    Now I sit and continuously want to invest in a life coach but don’t trust my desire to need something outside myself. Does any of this make sense?
    Any thoughts?
    Thank you- Jennifer

  • […] Instead Of Advice, by Tara Mohr, expert in women’s leadership and well-being […]

  • […] Mohr, in her recent article “Instead of Advice,” describes how advice from others can backfire on us. She proposes that, “no other person, no […]

  • Martina says:

    So true… Most of the times, when I’m being given advice, I don’t follow through. Lately, I wondered why and I came to the following answer. Because it is not my own truth. Because it is not what my heart told me to do. This is also one of the reasons why it is so powerful to have a coach. A coach doesn’t tell you what to do. A coach doesn’t give you a plan on how to move on, step by step. A coach asks you questions and allows you to come up with your own action steps. With your own answers. With your own truth. And this is when you are motivated, when you feel inspired to just do it, to go for it. It has to come from one’s heart. You have to identify with it. And the answers are all inside of you. This is what I believe in.

  • Martina says:

    Jennifer, go and get a good life coach. Please see, what I just commented below Tara’s post. A good coach doesn’t tell you what exactly to do. Instead, a coach will help you find the answers that are already inside of you. Listen to your heart and let that voice out! Give it a chance to be heard! Warmly, Martina

  • sophia says:

    Tara, this article is a masterpiece!
    I find it actually valuable to mature the childhood mindset of waiting other to tell us what to do, instead of sitting down and listen innerly or acting productively to gain some clarity about our situations.

    Thank you for bringing this out !
    Love and Blessings

  • sophia says:

    Tara, this article is a masterpiece!
    I find it actually valuable to mature the childhood mindset of waiting for others to tell us what to do, instead of sitting down and listen innerly or acting productively to gain some clarity about our situations.

    Thank you for bringing this out !
    Love and Blessings

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