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How to Get Advice That Actually Helps You

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We only live once. That means that every step in life is new and different. Passing from one role at which we have no experience to another is part of what keeps life interesting. But it precisely because each stage in life brings new, exciting challenges that it is so important to learn to ask for—and take—advice.

I’ve had to play many new roles in the last three years of my life. I was a graduate student in a long-distance relationship. Then I was a newly-wed just starting a new job. Now I’m a new mom. Each new challenge has required a lot of advice and help from a supportive community of women—family, friends, and co-workers. Receiving so much advice has taught me a lot about how good advice and how to get it.

Good advice depends on who you ask, what you ask, and how you listen.

Who You Ask

  • Look for advice from people with experience… Most good advice comes from people who have been there before. Look for career advice from trusted coworkers, marriage advice from happily-married friends, and parenting advice from those with children.
  • …But also from people with distance. Be careful about asking advice of people in the same boat you are. Well-intentioned words of wisdom can quickly become competitive comparisons if both parties aren’t careful.
  • Be a part of an inter-generational community. The best way to find advice from experienced people is to be a part of an inter-generational community. As a teacher, for example, I can ask the parents of my teenage students for advice on how to help my infant son. And I’m in a position to offer advice about college, relationships, and careers to my teenage students.
  • Limit your reading. Too many books, articles, and websites can undermine your confidence. Stick to a few good volumes recommended to you by those trusted, experienced sources.
  • Be cautious about advice you find on-line. A Google search for any problem will almost always yield the worst-case scenario. Always think critically about advice you find on-line. Even well-intentioned sources like Experimental Wifery can get it wrong sometimes. (When we do, we hope you’ll let us know!)

What You Ask

  • Ask specific questions. It is much easier to solve a clear problem. For example, a question like, “How do I have better conversations with my husband?” is much easier to answer than, “How do I have a good marriage?” Besides, clarifying the problem to yourself before you ask for advice may help you come up with an answer on your own.
  • Be clear about what you’re looking for. When you describe a problem, always let the listener know what you’re looking for: advice, support for your own idea, or just a listening ear. Being upfront is an important way to avoid unnecessary hurt feelings.
  • Be Honest. Most people want to give helpful advice. If you know an idea won’t work or feel uncomfortable trying a particular suggestion, say so. The advice-giver may have another idea more appropriate for your situation.
  • Seek a good book. When a would-be advisor suggests reading material, she offers you the chance to learn something new on your own. Some of the best marriage and parenting advice I’ve had has come from highly-recommended books. A friend with a son 9 months older than Thomas turned me on to Baby-Led Weaning and The Wonder Weeks, two books that continue to make parenting easier and more fun.

How You Listen

  • Listen with humility. One of the hardest parts of asking for advice is accepting that you don’t know everything. Don’t let your pride stand in the way of listening to good advice. Even an advice-giver who starts with something you already know may be leading up to a new insight or idea.
  • Politely refuse unsolicited advice. Advice-givers are almost always well-intentioned, but that doesn’t mean you have to take them seriously. So thank the older woman in the dairy aisle who thinks your son needs a sweater, but don’t let her advice make you doubt yourself as a parent.
  • Take all advice with a grain of salt. You are the only person who knows all the nuances of your situation. If a piece of advice sounds like a bad idea, don’t follow it. Anyone who gets offended when you don’t follow her advice isn’t worth asking in the first place.
  • Ask for help weighing advice. When you go looking for advice, you can often end up with more than you were looking for. Don’t be afraid to ask a trusted confidant to help you sift through advice. My husband and I consider advice-getting a team effort—I find out the facts, and he helps me decide the best course of action.
  • Trust your own judgment. You are better at being you than anyone else. It is up to you to decide how to keep your own job, run your own house, safeguard your own marriage, and raise your own children. No matter how much advice you look for, trust yourself to do the best you can.

Being a woman isn’t easy—and it isn’t something you’re supposed to do alone. Learning how to get and take great advice is an important part of being a happy and successful woman.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Let us know in the comments.

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