Thanks, But No Thanks

Why you should sometimes ignore others’ advice, no matter how much you respect the person offering it

Whenever you make plans and discuss them with others, you’ll almost certainly get tons of advice. Those handing out the advice do it with the best of intentions. They want what’s best for you. And sometimes, they’re older. Or more experienced. Or even more accomplished – whether by their standards or yours. But what if you don’t feel that their advice is right for you? What if you want to do things your own way? Is that even okay? Should you always take others’ advice? Isn’t that a sign of being receptive to feedback? Let’s explore. That’s fine. Yes. No. No.

A car ignoring a road sign to Rome

Let’s go on a holiday!

Imagine, you have a best friend who loves spending their holidays in an all-inclusive resort. Swimming, sandy beaches, cocktails, gorgeous food. They do this twice a year and they know where to go and how to get the best deals.

Now, imagine that you’re actually very different from your friends. You prefer adventure. Your dream holiday is hitchhiking to some nature reserve in the North and then spending your time hiking.

Finally, imagine you tell your friend you’ve taken 2 weeks off and are going on a holiday.

Your friend tells you: “You should really bring sunscreen, and your water goggles. And for dinner, you should order the risotto, it’s excellent!”

Of course, most of this advice is useless to you (except for sunscreen, always wear sunscreen). You’re not going to pack your goggles, when you’re not planning to go under water. And you’d sure like to order that risotto, but instead, you’ll be cooking over a camp fire.

Was your friend giving you poor advice? Yes, and no. They were giving you great advice. Just not for what you’re trying to accomplish.

Compare this to getting directions. Not following great directions to Rome when you’re going to London isn’t disrespectful or stubborn, it’s common sense.

Advice is about reaching goals

Whatever advice you’re getting, and whomever you’re getting it from – advice is always based on assumed goals. For instance, parenting advice is based on the goal of ‘being a good parent’. Career advice is based on the goal of ‘being successful in your job’. Life advice is based on the goal of ‘being happy’.

There is one big problem with that. Good, successful, and even happy mean different things to different people.

If your definition of success is being able to work the famous 4-hour work week, but someone else’s definition of success is quickly climbing the career ladder at Google, their advice will be completely useless to you.

If your definition of being a good parent is raising empowered kids, you won’t care about teaching them how to fit in (on the other hand, if you’re a parent who cares about being just like everyone else, this might be exactly what you’ll want to teach them).

Advice rests on assumptions

The person giving you the advice might mistakenly assume that you have the same goals. That’s not ill will. They know what works for them, and it may be hard to imagine that this doesn’t work for everyone.

When you’re ignoring or rejecting advice others offer you, they may feel like you’re just being stubborn, recalcitrant (in Dutch, they use the beautiful and slightly condescending word ‘eigenwijs’, meaning ‘own wisdom’ or ‘doing things your own way’, as if any of that is a bad thing). And that makes sense. For them, it’s as if you asked them for directions to Rome, were told to go south, and then decided to go north instead. Which leaves them wondering whether you a) distrust their knowledge of how to get to Rome, or b) aren’t entirely sane.
That’s very understandable, but doesn’t help you much. So let’s discuss how to tell whether you should take someone’s advice (and how to politely ignore or reject it).

How to tell when to take advice

The very first thing that needs to be said: if you decide whether to take the advice based on how much you like or respect this other person, you’re doing yourself a massive disservice.
Your best friend may be a professor in Roman History, but that still doesn’t make them an expert on going to London. While your asshole colleague very well may be, even if you’d never go to London with them.

In deciding whether to take advice, the most important question to ask yourself is this: will it help me reach my goal?

If the answer is no, feel free to discard the advice, no matter who is giving it to you.

If the answer is yes, either take the advice, or explore whether other advice would help you even better.

If you don’t know, ask the person giving you the advice about the context and consequences: “So you’re saying I should enforce a curfew for my teen son. What’s your experience with that? What would I accomplish if I did that?” “You think I should pursue an education in law. What will my life look like if I do?” If the result is not the result you’re looking for – you know the advice is not for you.

Of course, in order to compare your goal to the advisor’s goal, you’ll need to know your own goal/vision first. (And yes, that’s exactly why we’ve developed our vision cards!) So don’t be afraid to take your time and get clear on that, first.

Politely ignoring or rejecting advice

Sometimes (probably quite often), you’ll decide that certain advice is not for you. It’s tempting to try and defend your choice. It’s also often fruitless. You’ll have a hard time convincing someone that North is the way to go, if for their goal, it actually makes a lot of sense to go South. Instead, here’s what you can try to say when you’re offered advice you won’t take:

  1. Show appreciation. Whether useful or not, the other person is trying to help you and has your best interests at heart (or their idea of your best interests, anyway). Showing appreciation lets them know you’re aware of that.
  2. Ask them about their goals (even if you think you already know what they are). That way, you show your willingness to consider the advice, instead of instantly discarding it as useless.
  3. Explain how your goals are different, or why you feel that the advice won’t work for you.

Sometimes, you’ll find that the other person will still try to solve your problems, and whether they’re capable of that or not, you may not want them to. Maybe, you just enjoy figuring things out for yourself. This, too, is a goal mismatch (enjoying the destination vs enjoying the road – flying to Rome to get there quickly vs. taking a road trip and enjoying the scenery).

Once this is something both of you understand, it’s perfectly fine to say something like: “I appreciate your help and I know you’re knowledgeable about this topic. This is something I’d like to figure out myself. I know it might be less efficient, but I enjoy the process.”

Take our advice (or don’t)

To sum it up, here’s our 4 steps for dealing with advice:

  1. Get clear on your own goals
  2. Get clear on what you’d accomplish with the advice
  3. If the advice doesn’t match your goal, don’t take it
  4. If the relationship with the person offering you the advice matters, show them appreciation and explain why you’re not taking the advice

Of course, this article in advice in itself. So if your goals are different from ours (accomplishing your own goals, while preserving relationships with others) – feel free to ignore it. We won’t hold it against you.