Today on The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about mistakes people make when they ask for advice.

Asking for advice can be a tricky thing. Often times, when asking someone is struggling with something, that person might not know exactly how to ask for it. Other times, that person might not be seeking new ideas but is rather looking for validation or an affirmation of a choice they’ve already made.

In today’s episode of the show, Steli and Hiten talk about some common mistakes people make when they ask for advice, how to ask people the right questions, why you shouldn’t give unsolicited advice and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic

00:33 Why this topic was chosen.

01:43 The first mistake people make when asking for advice.

01:56 The second mistake people make when asking for advice.

03:48 Why you should always take negative advice gracefully.

05:16 Why observations from other people are really valuable.

06:14 How to ask people the right questions.

07:02 The importance of meditating on a piece of advice before acting on it.

07:43 Why you shouldn’t give unsolicited advice.

3 Key Points:

  • The first mistake you can make is not knowing that you should ask for advice.
  • When you’re struggling with something, it’s really important to ask for help.
  • Observations from other people are really valuable.

Steli Efti: Hey everybody. This is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah and today on The Start Up Chat we’re going to talk about mistakes when asking for advice and we’re just going to do a relatively quick episode going back and forth. I think the first mistake I’m going to share is probably not obvious and that mistake is not knowing that you should ask for advice in the first place. Right? So we’re assuming people are asking for advice. I think one that I’m bad at and you might be too I don’t know, but I think we’ve talked about this in the past is that you just don’t ask. I think it goes beyond just work or business. It’s a life thing where like if you’re dealing with something, there are people that will just talk to you. You know and go talk to them and ask. When you’re struggling or suffering, even worse, it’s really important to do that. It might even be people you don’t even know that well. It doesn’t really matter. It’s not a humility, it’s like the opposite of humility but there’s like a vulnerability that we might not be willing to go to certain people or anybody when we have a problem. I would just say if you have a problem and you don’t know anyone else to call, call the A team. I’m going to leave it at that ’cause I think that sums up one of them for me.


Steli Efti: All right, I love that. Yeah I didn’t see that coming. I already was in that mind frame of people have already asked for advice so I love that. Two things that come to my mind instantly, one is making sure that when you ask for advice you ask from a place of curiosity instead of from a place of trying to confirm that your idea, your opinion is right. Not that it’s bad if somebody confirms that the direction you are going towards is one they think as well is the right direction to take, but I always find that people make that mistake where sometimes they come into a conversation, they are seeking advice, but what they really seek is confirmation. All that we really want to hear is that they’re right and what they’re doing is correct. They’re not there to truly here what this other person or this group of people has to say. So that closes you up to all the value you might be able to receive if you’re totally open minded in that conversation so make sure when you ask for advice, you truly want to hear everything the other party has to say, even and especially if it contradicts what you think the right thing to do would be here, or the tendency, the leaning you already bring to the table when you ask for advice. The other thing that I’ll say when it comes to asking for advice is making sure that the one thing that I’ve noticed myself is that when the advice that somebody gives me is particularly painful, some emotional response that I have that is instant and strong and negative, that is to me such a big kind of red flag that they’re either probably right or there’s something here I need to investigate. I think it took me a very long time to get to that level of self awareness to notice when I had a super strong negative response to a piece of advice when I strongly disagree. ‘Cause my first instinct is to say, “No that’s absolutely not correct.” Then I’ll take a double take and be like I have to meditate on this and I feel like too many people are not doing that so when you give them advice that when they strongly disagree that they’re closing down and not listening anymore and they try to now they’re switching their conversation to try to convince you you’re wrong versus trying to investigate why you said what you said if they might be wrong. The two of us, I just actually thought about this, you are smiling [crosstalk]


Hiten Shah: Yeah me too.


Steli Efti: The two of us last time we met for coffee a few weeks ago in San Francisco, he gave me some advice that at first my first gut reaction was like, “No that makes no sense. I don’t believe that at all.” But because it was him and because I disagreed so strongly at first, my gut reaction was like, “Let me actually marinate on it.” It took all of like ten minutes or so for me to come around and be like, “God damn you Heaton. I think you’re right. I think this is the way this worked out.”


Hiten Shah: That leads to another tip I think that I have which is you might have taken it as advice, I considered what I said an observation. I literally said, “Hey Steli, this is what I think is going on.” I didn’t even say advice, I didn’t try to offer any advice on it. I know you call it advice which makes sense and that leads to my point which is … This one will be a little bit interesting but I don’t want anyone to pick my brain. I don’t want anyone to pick my friend’s brains, I don’t want to pick your brain. So stop thinking of it as picking your brain. I don’t mean to say that ’cause like the visual of picking your brain, ’cause a lot of people have said that and tweeted about it and I have too probably in the past. You and I have probably talked about it but what I mean to say is observations from other people is really valuable. We bucket advice [inaudible] tell me what to do or tell me what I should do. If you just observe and say, “Hey this is what it sounds likes going on and you just repeat it back to me, often times I don’t see it like that. Just like I did to you right. I was like, “Oh this is probably what’s going on.” It wasn’t advice it was observation so it was like, don’t take advice like someone telling you what to do, it’s more like somebody either observing or helping you think. You don’t need to pick their brain. You don’t want really what’s in their brain. You don’t want to know what they did in the past right? That’s picking their brain for sure. What you want to know is how would they think about a situation you’re in. Often times an observation is so much more powerful if you can get it would of somebody. My tip related to this is tell me how you see it. Here’s my situation, please tell me how you see it would be the question I would ask if you want observations, which is really interesting because that shows you how the other person thinks, which is what you care about.


Steli Efti: Love it. All right last mistake when asking for advice for me and then you and then we’ll wrap this one up. The last piece of advice that I’ll give on advice, and actually one of my favorite episodes, I’ll give a shout out to ourselves because we deserve it sometimes on the Start Up Chat Episode Four, we surpassed the 400’s just recently but episode four was advice on advice. I highly advise all of you listeners to go back and listen to that one. My last piece on that is, or a big mistake that I think people ought to avoid is to separate between the moment that you received advice from somebody and marinate what you heard for a little bit before acting on it or believing that that is the right solution or the right advice. Basically what I’m saying is don’t take the word of anybody as gospel. Don’t get over enthusiastic just because in the moment something might feel totally right or somebody said something in a very convincing way. A lot of times people, they seek advice from others that they admire or that they respect and just because somebody that you respect or admire tells you something and maybe tells you something very convincingly in the moment, you might over commit to that piece of advice versus taking the appropriate amount of time to marinate on that advice, to think about it, then to truly confirm was this sound advice? Does this make sense for me? Do I really want to do this? Versus just instantly accepting everything somebody of authority tells you, ’cause then anytime you ask somebody else for advice, you’re going to get a lot of conflicting advice, especially in the start up world. You’re going to be zig zagging to nowhere land versus truly checking what is right for you.


Hiten Shah: Yeah. I got to give one more and this is like a total … This is just interesting to me. The reason I say it’s interesting is because I’m going to give it as if the advice giver should … This is advice for the advice giver but I think it’s advice for the person receiving advice too. I learned this about myself recently and I’m looking to do better. What I learned about myself is I used to, I’m going to say in the past, ’cause it’s very recent but it’s in the past, ’cause that’s what I’m working on. In the past, I would especially to the people around me that I cared about the most, would give advice even if they didn’t ask for it. I need to work on that. Nobody wants my advice. Like they don’t want it. That might sound crazy to everyone listening but it’s like, nobody wants it unless they ask for it. Nobody wants it unless they ask for it and I would give it all the time because I felt like I don’t know I just got good at it or I thought I was good at it, but I felt like that’s what I should be doing in life is offering my thoughts to people or my advice. What I realized is sometimes I just don’t need to do that. Probably most of the time I should do it. So these days, my advice for people who are giving advice or are in a meeting or whatever and they think it’s about that, ask if you should. Ask if you can. Find your way to do that. Don’t just assume that in the meeting all you have to do is give advice. That’s been a game changer for me ’cause honestly may advice is better and if somebody doesn’t want it, I don’t need to give it. That just makes everybody’s life easier. So if you’re asking for advice, I mentioned something earlier about asking about an observation and going for that. I would go even further and be very explicit that you want advice and what you want advice on and give people the context and then let them just share their advice with you or their thoughts or their feedback. At the same time, if you don’t want advice on something and you’re in a meeting and that person, the context is advice or the context is just meeting, then you can explicitly tell them, “I’m not looking for advice on this, I just want to talk to you about it because it’s what’s going on right now and I’m talking to you about it because I don’t have anyone to talk to or I want to just share.” Right? ‘Cause sometimes people just want to share and I’ve noticed that too. Like people will share. I think they want advice. They say they want advice and then I share what I’m going to share. Like you said earlier, they don’t either care or it was just not valuable for anybody, me or them. Really think hard about whether you want advice or you just want someone to talk to. And that’s okay.


Steli Efti: I love it. All right that is all the advice we have to give you about giving and receiving advice.


Hiten Shah: Yes exactly.


Steli Efti: We shall [inaudible] all very soon. Bye bye.


Hiten Shah: Bye.