10 Pieces of Worthless Advice

My friend Charlie Crook has been heard saying, “More unsolicited advice!”  However, even when people solicit advice, it is often ignored.

Why would someone ask for advice and then ignore it? Although there are many reasons, I think most of the time it is simply due to the fact that the advice given is so general that no clear action can be taken.

Take for example my first cut at a top 10:

  1. Be authentic.
  2. Be creative.
  3. Be positive.
  4. Be safe.
  5. Be sincere.
  6. Be a team player.
  7. Always give 110 percent.
  8. Change your attitude.
  9. Maintain mutual respect.
  10. Speak from your heart.

The reason I call the 10 pieces of advice above worthless (actually I’m certain there are a lot more that can be added to the list) is that none of them tell you what behavior you need to do more or less of.  Without detailing the specific behaviors required to heed the advice, some of the advice can actually create problems. For example, Be positive. This advice is worthless because if you are positive at the wrong time or in the wrong way you may inadvertently reinforce the wrong behavior. And don’t those people who are always positive just get on your nerves anyway?

Of the 10 above, my favorite is “Be authentic.” There are books about “authentic leadership” and they are quite popular. I know some people for whom the advice to be authentic would be about the worst advice you could give them. If you are really a jerk, does that mean that you should always act like one rather than try not to be one? Some would say, “That is not what it means.” But that is the problem. What does it mean? It means many different things to many different people. When one says, “I am trying to be authentic,” You might say, “Well, you are trying the wrong things.”

When I hear such advice, I think it is because the person giving it does not know what precise behavior is needed to solve the problem. I have said many times that, “If you can tell me what you want someone to do, the problem is almost solved because the rest is easy.” Once the behavior that is needed has been identified, the technology for increasing it is straightforward.

Let’s assume that a solution to a problem can be determined in one hour. Forty-five minutes will probably need to be spent on pinpointing the desired behavior. When I had a clinical practice, I had a couple come to see me because as the wife said, “He doesn’t love me.” Forty-five minutes later we determined that the problem was not that he didn’t love her, but he just didn’t say the words, “I love you,” unprompted. It didn’t take months to help them; it took one hour. While this example may not seem relevant in business, the point is that pinpointing the behavior you seek is what is necessary to get the behavior you need.

The best way to help people who receive the advice above is to ask, “What would that look like? What would you see me do or say?” Once that has been determined, all that is left to do is to track it (at least daily) and then arrange consequences that favor it. If that doesn’t work, keep trying new pinpoints (i.e. behavior) until it does. Dr. Ogden Lindsley determined that 98.6 percent of people who changed the behavioral consequence at least three times solved their problem. Of course that assumes that you have pinpointed the correct behavior.

Good advice is hard to find. Most people who give it are concerned and want the best for the other person. However, if you are to be truly helpful, you will not say things included in my top 10 list, but rather spend the time to help the person identify specific behavior that can be tracked and reinforced.