Why asking for advice makes you look good

by | Mar 6, 2021 | Business conversations, Career Planning, Personal Brand

Rather than revealing weaknesses, asking for advice – the right way – demonstrates to others that you prioritise knowledge and are building your own expertise with impact.

You may worry that asking others for advice or information in professional contexts reveals your ignorance, fearing that others will be put off because you need help. However, if you master the art of asking with intention, it does quite the opposite.

What is the wrong way to ask for advice?

Depending on how you ask, you may indeed lose people’s confidence in you as a capable and trusted professional in your own right.

Leaning on crutches: People who constantly ‘lean on’ others for advice and struggle to make decisions for themselves are likely to fail to project an image of professional reliability. Perhaps they are simply very early on in their careers and need to ask a lot of questions – that is a necessary stage we all go through. But perhaps they are at a point where they could be synthesising what they have learned and boldly applying it to their challenges, trying things out… but for whatever reason lack the confidence to do so. Unfortunately, in this scenario, a lack of confidence in one’s own expertise results in a lack of confidence from others.

Putting off graduation: Perhaps you have witnessed the ‘eternal student’… the one who attends every business workshop and conference, who works with multiple coaches and mentors, but who fails to choose and apply any one particular strategy for long. Not giving themselves the time to try, fail, and try again, they learn only at ‘surface level’ and have an air of confusion about them.

While mentors, coaches, courses and books are extremely valuable tools, there comes a time when you just have to really give it a go. Confidence comes from time spent in the field – all the theory in the world can’t give you that level of self-assurance.

Acting like a scavenger: Another ‘wrong way to ask’ is the ‘pick your brains’ scenario! I have heard many experts and senior professionals say that they are tired of being asked to coffee only to have their ‘brains picked’ about how they set up their success. People want to know exactly what they did and how, to get the success they have. While experts love to share and help others, they are much more likely to want to help if you demonstrate you are thinking for yourself, finding your own path… while asking for a little help now and then.

Read on below for the right way to ask for advice…

What is the right way to ask for advice?

On the flip side, people who demonstrate they have taken the time to learn what they can on their own… then use that foundation to ask specific questions to gain further insights and information… from people they have researched and carefully chosen… will demonstrate that they are proactive askers who will do something impactful with the information they gather.

For example, if you want to understand a target industry you want as clients, reading up on the latest news in that industry, attending some industry events where possible, and thinking about who you need to connect with in that space, creates that foundation from which to then plan and ask intelligent questions of the industry’s experts.

Having a narrow scope of what you will ask, and putting a time limit on it – then communicating that pre-meeting to the person you are seeking advice from, shows that you respect their time and have thought about how to make the most of the time together by diving deep rather than asking a broad scope – aka every single question that pops into your head!

Well-thought-out questions will make for a much more interesting conversation for both parties, and they are much more likely to surprise and delight – they will be different from the basic questions the expert hears all the time. This is good news for the impression you make as the asker!

The ‘humble expert’

In his popular TED Talk, ‘How to speak up for yourself’ Adam Galinksy says that being the ‘humble expert’ can widen your sphere of influence.

Being the humble expert means demonstrating what you know and what you care about, while coming from a place of enquiry and interest in the other person. I often advise clients who are growing their business or exploring the next move in their career, to use the ‘research meeting’ as the basis for building relationships with door-openers and influencers. People naturally want to help, and if you are clear on your ask, demonstrate you’ve done the work, and are respectful of their time, most people will be happy to chat with you.

Part of ‘doing the work’ before a first conversation with someone you want advice from is to work on your personal brand. Even if you land a stellar introduction, the person will probably turn to Google or LinkedIn to find out who you are before deciding if they’ll make time for you. Have you demonstrated that you are a knowledgeable, thinking professional who is going places? Do this first, before making the ask, and it will greatly increase your chances of successfully getting that meeting.

Asking for advice from an influential, successful person who is your ideal client or who can open doors for you achieves the following:

  • The information you gain will help you understand your ideal client or target audience more deeply or give you ideas for improving your business or career.
  • You get to share your personal brand with someone new while you discuss your work and your thinking with them. They will get to know you and what you are all about, and may then provide the introductions for you to share your personal brand with even more people.
  • When someone gives you advice, they become more invested in you – they want to see you do something great with that advice, and will likely support you in future if you can run with it.

 Admitting you don’t know everything is a sign of real confidence

It is natural to be afraid to let people see your flaws, particularly in situations where you want to impress. The problem with that is that we all have flaws, and sooner or later they are revealed!

If you can learn to be comfortable with the fact that you don’t have all the answers, then you have nothing to defend or protect – so your language and your demeanour will be easier, more open and more relaxed, giving a sense of real confidence. People will like you more, share more with you, ask for your opinion, and trust you.