Most of us seek advice from mentors, friends, and family at critical points in our lives. We look to learn from their wisdom when deciding what job to take up, who to marry, or what college to go to.

Hearing fresh perspectives and new ideas can trigger new thinking, and ultimately change our lives. However, advice, unfortunately, comes with biases. Opinions, as opposed to wisdom, can be dangerous because they could be incongruous with our values and context, but have the power to influence us heavily. These are normally delivered with strong emotions, almost coercing us in their direction.

Below are 5 things to watch out for when seeking advice.


The set-up of this conversation, inherently gives the advice-giver a sense of superiority, since he/she has better knowledge on the matter. This feeling of superiority, subconsciously gets the ego to kick in. The ego identifies its self-worth with the person’s life and career choices, making him/her talk these up. Depending on personalities, some people do this overtly, while others drop subtle hints or disguise positives within supposed negative points.


Projection means “the unconscious transfer of one’s desires or emotions to another person”. If the advice-giver does not like taking risks, or fears loneliness, he/she will subconsciously think we do the same, and will advise us with that assumption. The obvious example is seeking out relationship advice from someone who’s recently separated. The person’s fear of being let down in a relationship, will greatly influence his/her viewpoint.


We all have different values. Our mentor at work might encourage us to push ourselves higher in the corporate ladder, however, we might value a balanced life. Even though the mentor would see a situation as an opportunity of a lifetime, for us this could end our much-valued family bonding.


Jealousy, unfortunately, is often at play, especially among peers. Deep down everyone is competitive, and advice-givers, with the superiority that comes with being sought after, find it difficult to see someone exceed their achievements. As a result, the ego comes back into play, and this time, talks down good options, either overtly or covertly.

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Making decisions is terrifying. Most of the time we are happy to have someone smart make them for us. How often have we asked people, “Just tell me what to do?” This is an area of self-management, where we need to pursue wisdom, while having the confidence of making our own decisions.

There may be many other factors involved, but the bottom line is that advice comes with baggage. The challenge is distilling knowledge from opinions, and thereafter using it to make our own authentic decisions. Although this sounds simple, it’s not easy to implement. Some basic things to look out for is people telling us what to do, lecturing us, and talking down. While we develop our own watch-outs, simply being conscious of the factors above, is a great starting point towards getting the best out of advice.

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Image Credit: Mark Bowden