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People May Ask for Your Advice, but What They Really Want are Accomplices

People often ask me for advice or feedback.

I’ve learned that despite asking for authentic feedback, very few people really want it in the first place.

Is It Really?

Is It Really?

So I almost never offer any.

Authentic, candid feedback is worth its weight in gold, but that kind of feedback is threatening to offer and often painful to receive. No one wants to work that hard. So those who are asked for feedback or to evaluate another, tend to either demure entirely or, if they agree to say something, to be nice and offer platitudes or innocuous details.  No one profits from that conversation.

Plus, my experience is that most people are not well-positioned to hear and internalize hard truths.

Accomplices, Please  

When most people ask for advice, they are usually looking for reassurance or accomplices.

Count me out.

Authentic feedback—the truth—can be a dangerous commodity to offer in both professional and social settings. Despite assurances to the contrary, it frequently results in defensiveness, arguments, or worse from recipients. Who wants that? No wonder most companies have a policy against offering former employees references.

I’ve learned to be suspicious of people even if they acknowledge they are struggling and need feedback to learn and improve. Few people interested in professional development can resist that entreaty. But in most cases, resist it they should.

A Salesman Requests Feedback

Some years ago, I was in the market for a new car. I went to my local Toyota dealer and a knowledgeable, young sales rep showed me a few models. I made a decision and was ready to shake hands on the deal, but then the sales rep made a stupid, off-putting joke that made me think twice and I left the showroom. Later that evening, the sales rep called me.

“Mr. Kador, please help me,” the salesman said. “I can tell I did or said something to offend you, and I’m sorry, but I have no idea what it was. I really need some honest feedback here. Can you tell me what I did so I can learn for next time?”

It was a decent appeal for feedback. Maybe he was asleep in sales school when they said save the jokes until after the contract is signed. But I was leery. So here’s what I told him.

“I’ll give you the feedback you asked for, but on three conditions.

“Anything,” the salesman quickly replied.

“Fine. The first condition is that you do not interrupt me. The second condition is that you do not defend yourself. The third condition is that you do not contact me again for six months,” I said. “Do I have your agreement?”

The phone was silent for about three seconds, replaced by a dial tone. He hung up on me.

Some people can’t handle the truth. Others want something, anything else.

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