Unsolicited Advice


Looking for “Starting With What You Have”? It’s over here.


When people ask for advice about something, I’ve learned to be careful about being too honest. Sometimes I’ll say first:

“Before I answer, do you want to hear ‘that sounds great!’ Or do you want to hear what I really think?”

This is because when we ask for advice, sometimes we’re really looking for affirmation. We want to hear, Yes! I love it! Proceed! Because we’re already married to the idea we want advice on, we’d be disappointed to hear anything less than an enthusiastic endorsement.

And actually, I think this is OK. It’s natural to want to hear positive feedback; it’s good to know that people you trust agree with your plan. But I’d also say that much of the time, we either already know what we need to do about something, or we can figure it out ourselves without something else nodding or shaking their head. If you already know, why ask?

On the other hand, the right kind of advice from the right people can save us from missteps. I have a small advisory team in Portland, whose official role is to help plan next year’s World Domination Summit. I originally said I wanted to do it in March, they said (unanimously) it should be in June. OK, I said—I took their advice and changed the plan. I originally said I wanted 300 people to come, and they said, “Why only 300?”–to which I realized, alright, let’s just open registration later this fall and see what happens.

Those are two examples of very good advice. But I value their advice because I know they believe in the project. If any of them didn’t believe in it, I wouldn’t think less of them, but I also wouldn’t seek out their advice. Why go looking for affirmation from someone who doesn’t believe?


Another thing: if you’ve got your heart set on doing something, it really doesn’t matter whether anyone else thinks it’s a good idea or not. So on those occasions where someone honestly does want my advice and I think the project is a bad idea, I try to make sure I also say that my opinion isn’t the final say. Plenty of people thought the iPod would flop too. So I could be wrong about your idea, and so could anyone else.

Sure, your heart can lead you astray, but at least it will be a more enjoyable ride.


Image: Stefan

Subscribe now and you’ll get the best posts of all time.


  • Frankerson P says:

    Good advice! I think about this a lot. Sometimes I have ideas that seem a bit out there so I keep those to myself and begin to execute before I talk to anyone else, since I don’t want to be discouraged.

  • Mike says:

    I know exactly what you mean.I recently started my first business and initially found it difficult to get the kind of constructive criticism you mention (and I needed). Most friends will only tell you that everything looks great, and fear that any criticism will be unwelcome.

    Whenever I actually receive advice / criticism, I find it refreshing and a great way to take a step back and reduce the tunnel vision that inevitably develops whenever you’re passionate about something.

    Great post,

  • Bill Carroll says:

    Excellent post. I encountered this very thing yesterday and forgot to ask, “Before I answer, do you want to hear ‘that sounds great!’ Or do you want to hear what I really think?”

    Great advice for the person asking for advice, and the person giving it. THanks for articulating this.

  • Jeffrey Tang says:

    A few things:

    1. The distinction between asking for advice and asking for affirmation really resonates with me. I think it’s a good lesson to learn both as the person giving input and as the person asking for it. If I can be in tune enough to realize that what I’m looking for is affirmation, then I might be more careful about who I ask 🙂

    2. When is it okay to cross the line between affirmation and advice? If a friend is really passionate about something, but you genuinely think it’s a terrible idea – do you tell him, or do you meet his need for affirmation and just let things play out?

    3. World Domination Summit? Have I missed earlier references to this, or is this one of those foreshadowing things?

  • Mars Dorian says:

    Hey Chris,

    It took almost a decade to clear that out – I have always listened to other people, and caused my inner voice to vanish into oblivion.

    Even when the world thinks it’s a bad idea, even if your mother and God herself say you shouldn’t do this – if the decision aligns with your heart, you must do it – no matter what.

    My life is a blast, now that I realize this very important message. The voice within is the only one that counts for youuuu.

    Concise but vital.
    Thanx, Chris

  • Elizabeth Potts Weinstein says:

    One big thing is that I only ask for advice/opinions from people who I know believe in me & my vision. Who get that what I’m doing is risky and slightly crazy and have they’ve bought into that. Who really get me, who I really am.

    Because otherwise I’ll get the answers that are about staying small and safe and being careful and not taking risks and doing what we “should” do and what everyone else does etc. etc. …

  • Trece says:

    Excellent advice. I’m particularly taken with your real-life examples – who’d a thunk that YOU had advisors!!!
    Looking forward to more details on the Summit.

  • Patrenia says:

    For me, I give advice (only when asked) and I’ll provide the disclaimer as well. I’ll also play the devil’s advocate trying to help them see the other side of the coin, even if I love their ideas.

    When I ask for advice, I make sure I’m asking people who believe in my vision and are willing to be critical as well as encouraging. I just have to be prepared for what their answers may be.

  • Nicky Hajal says:

    One way to look at consulting with others is to think of it as giving and getting perspectives, rather than advice.

    As a giver, the truth is that the other person probably knows much more about what they’re up to than I do. So the best I can do is just tell them how I see things.

    As a getter, the more points of view I can incorporate into my plans the better! No one of them has the full-answer, including my own. In a way, when I’m the creator, I’m merely a curator of perspectives.

  • Joel says:

    Excellent stuff…

    It’s amazing to me what we can do when we decide we’re just going to do it…no matter what.

  • Becky Blanton says:

    When Akio Morita, founder of SONY, decided to design the Walkman people said there was no market for music devices that people would carry and use ear phones with. It was “anti-social” and would flop. He smiled and did it anyway. Morita is a remarkable study in exactly this area – knowing when to listen and when to reject suggestions. Study him….he’s dead now, but his story is amazing. He came from a family of generations of saki, soy sauce and miso makers and bucked the mold from the time he was a child until he died. Opinions are like research. You read/listen/take them in and then combine the suggestion soup to make your decisions. Nice reminder Chris.

  • soultravelers3 says:

    In today’s world feedback can be so useful. Right now we are getting lots of great answers about our questions about finding the right Chinese school in Asia this fall so our 9 year old can immerse very deeply in her 3rd language.

    We have no experience in this area, (nor did we when we came to Spain or started our open ended world tour). I like to ask lots of people and use my own inner intuitive filter that seems to help me sort through it, to find the nuggets.

    I think perhaps that is the most important thing to have when asking a question….developing your own intuitive filter that can lead you to the gold and sort away the not so useful. Works for us. 😉

  • Robert says:

    Solid short wisdom, might be a little bumpy if you’re head doesn’t mind your heart it’s there sometimes…never the less…experience is valuable. Good stuff!

  • Early Retirement Extreme says:

    Does this handbag make me look fat?

    Maybe it … no! NO! right, yes? NO! I mean NO!

    Seriously, though, it sounds like you want advice on the “microlevel” but not on the “macrolevel” as in “what kind of suit should I wear to the job interview” and never “should I go to the job interview in the first place” and possibly really never “should I go to job interviews at all?”. This preference seems to be pretty normal. What this also means is that there is a lot of value in the answers to macro questions even as people don’t like to hear it simply because not many are giving the answers. Apparently, some even get burned on the stake, eh?

  • Trilobyte says:

    Chris, thanks for the reminder. Open/honest communication is a beautiful art and exchange. By the way, have a friend who dated one of the Dixie Chicks in college, found out she wanted to drop out of a rather up-and-coming small liberal arts college and let go a full-ride on violin scholarship to join some band, with her sister and a young lady she barely knew from Midland or something. No way, don’t do we told her. Worst advice I’ve ever given.

  • Chris Mower says:

    I spent two years of my life tutoring college students how to write. Before each session, I’d ask, “On a scale of 1 to 5, how honest do you want me to be? 5 is the most.” And they’d always say, “4 or 5.” But guess what? Most of those folks realized they didn’t like it that way. They don’t like to see their ideas being pushed around, reorganized or restructured, and the next time they’d say, “how about a 3.”

    If someone is really serious about an idea or serious about getting advice, they’ve got to be ready for someone to really say what they think… and to challenge their ideas.

  • Devin says:

    Hey Chris,

    I tend to accept and offer advice only from/to people I care about and think they can handle the exchange. Otherwise, I have learned to keep my personal opinions to my self. I am definitely a give-it-to-me-straight kind of guy. The short blast is much better than a drawn out waste of my time while I cross my fingers.

    I hope everyone here/hear gets a little dose of supportive truth.

  • Graham Phoenix says:

    Back in the early 70’s I worked on the Musical ‘The Rocky Horror Show’. I remember giving someone my opinion after the opening night, “It’ll never catch on”, I said, “It’ll soon be forgotten”. How wrong I was! Sometimes you do have to be careful who you get advice from! Perhaps I didn’t believe in the project enough, unlike the people you are using, Chris :-))

  • linda esposito says:

    OK Chris–here’s my unsolicited advice:

    I tend not to agree with the last paragraph:

    Another thing: if you’ve got your heart set on doing something, it really doesn’t matter whether anyone else thinks it’s a good idea or not.

    because I’ve seen a lot of foolhardiness and denial when some people (including myself) follow their hearts….If people are coming to you for your expert opinion, I believe you could help them by summoning honesty and experience when solicited…

  • Hannah says:

    In the 10 years I’ve practiced as an “alt medicine” doc it’s all about reading between the lines and figuring out what people really want to hear. In my experience, a really skilled practitioner (apply to ANY field) knows when to spill the beans and when to keep it zipped.

    The bad news is that most people (including me) start out doing a hideous job at knowing when to advise and when to listen. The good news is, we do learn from making mistakes ;-).

    After years of mistakes, I rarely ask any more unless I’m ready for a real answer. And I want the truth, even if it makes me cry.

  • Chris says:

    Thanks for all the comments! You guys are so smart. I’d take your advice anytime… well, maybe. 🙂

    World Domination Summit — yep, it’s a big plan for 2011. I’ll have more to say about it as soon as we get the Unconventional Book Tour site going for this fall.

    Happy Thursday, everyone.

  • Satya Colombo says:

    Hi Chris — glad to hear about the summit. I have a feeling that whatever you do with that, it’ll be worth it for any of us.

    it took me a minute to “get” the message here (I generally try to consciously take away and process the key point of any article from the people I respect most online) The key takeaway or the crux of the matter for me was here:

    “…I value their advice because I know they believe in the project. If any of them didn’t believe in it, I wouldn’t think less of them, but I also wouldn’t seek out their advice.”

    If I’m ever seeking advice — or processing/accepting criticism — I try not to take it too seriously from people who don’t necessarily support or believe in me, or don’t have similar values as I do.
    Well, duh… the thing is it’s a different thing to understand that conceptually then put it into actual practice when you’ve got your ass out on the line, or your business in the spotlight.

    Keep on rockin the free world– 🙂

  • Laura Lee Bloor says:

    Excellent points, as usual. We all need feedback, but you have to balance that feedback with your gut instinct.

    I was wondering though, how did you select the people on your small advisory board? Why did you select the people you did? And how many are there? Also, yeah, did I miss earlier posts about the World Domination Summit? What’s up with that?

  • Laura Lee Bloor says:

    Ha! You must have just posted the comment above about the World Domination Summit. Disregard my last question then. 🙂

  • Deb says:

    A few years ago I finally learned that the best answer is to say I don’t have any advice but I do have an opinion. Are you interested? Saves a lot of time and usually hurt feelings. Sometimes mine, because it’s hard to give advice and have it scoffed or ignored; but I have less defensiveness over my opinions.

  • Ande says:

    Good advice, Chris. Not that I need it. 🙂 Instead of asking others for advice, I think we just need to pay attention to our emotions (we feel good, we’re on the right track–we feel bad, we need to change directions) and then if we need affirmation of the path we choose, we can buy a bobble head doll and give it a jostle. It will nod in agreement, and then we can happily get on with it.

  • Meg says:

    I’m horribly guilty of this… I also get depressed easy when people don’t agree with me, ha. I need to stop that. (Then again, sometimes it helps fuel me to prove them wrong….)

    I’m also insanely curious about this Summit, especially because I’ll be within easy driving distance (to me, anyhow) of Portland. 🙂 I have patience enough to wait, all in due time, right?

  • Wyman says:

    Hi everyone,

    In 72 years I have both given and received my share of bad advice. I would be more prone to telling someone how to improve their idea vs. to do or not.

    The setting is very important. If you are on the hot seat in a mastermind group you can handle more criticism. They are trusted friends with your best interest hat heart.

    Stress that your advice is based on your own experience or what an expert suggests. You could be totally wrong. “Go with your gut feeling.”

    Who you ask advice from is important. Rich Dad or Poor Dad?

    If you truly want help in making your plan as at the beginning of a project. Seth Goth calls it thrashing. At the end of a project is just delays the delivery. “Good enough and improve later”

    Great post and comments. Thanks

  • Ryan Martin says:

    A friend of mine, who at 23, asked for my advice whether he should declare bankruptcy or not. I told him how crazy it would be when all he needed to do was work and correct his debt problem. By the end he was in tears.

    He declared bankruptcy and is still running from his money problems.

    Everybody should really try to understand the “empty your cup” zen proverb; their lives will be better for it.

  • Melissa Dinwiddie says:

    What a timely post, Chris! I’m currently in major “information overload” as I try to figure out what my next steps are in creating (evolving) the life I want, and everyone and their brother claims to have the answer. It seems there is advice from every corner. A great coaching session with Sinclair just now reminded me that I need to be my own detective, and let my own voice be the loudest. Part of that is assembling a support team, like your advisory team, to make sure I don’t feel isolated. People who believe in me, believe in my dreams, and can give me advice that’s not based on their self-interest. THAT kind of advice is worth its weight in gold.

  • biren says:

    you have touched a very ‘thorny’ issue i face. excellent advice. difficult to remember (for me) as i take myself (the role of advisor) very seriously…
    most times leaves the person either disconnected with me (at best), or deflated (at worst).
    i like (a lot) what deb has said above… ‘i have an opinion’…
    i may be able to use that next time.
    thanks DEB.
    there is another ‘advice’ a friend gave… which, i try to use (whenever i am in my senses)… first find and appreciate the good things about the issue in question. only then proceed to give feedback on what seems to be ‘not okay’…

    maybe, i can work out using all the 3 ‘suggestions – yours, deb’s and that of my friend.

    thanks chris.

  • ami | 40daystochange says:

    Great point Chris. Sometimes we ask for others’ advice, perhaps unconsciously giving ourselves an ‘out’ if things don’t work out the way we planned – or an out so we can bail on an idea that seems scary.

    Ultimately we have to be our own sounding board and decision maker (esp. for life-changing decisions). The input we get from other people is just more data to consider.

  • Kris Boesch says:

    Man, you are on the money. It’s crazy how many times I’ve sought approval under the guise of seeking feedback. And all the while knowing in my gut the truth. Learning to trust myself, my gut, my intuition has been an interesting journey. Trusting my knowing.

    Interestingly I just sought the feedback (aka approval) of my peeps on a kick booty video I had done – and they all loved the video and they all had one piece of good advice. Ironically each person’s suggestion was different and often conflicted – in which case I went to what I know – this is good, period. Move along.

    One thing I do find helpful is vetting out if an idea is fabulous or just a shiny distracting object. Lots of those.

    Also I won’t give advice/feedback unless I’m asked for it – and like you, I check in to make sure they want the real deal. Folks know they can count on me for the real deal, kindly delivered.

  • sarah says:

    Great post but what really caught my eye was this world domination summit! I’m looking forward to hearing more.

  • Tammi Kibler says:

    As a writer who has given and received writing feedback online going back to 1996, I can affirm that most of the time writers are asking for affirmation and not criticism. Unfortunately, that makes it very hard for those who want it to find the sort of feedback that pushes a writer to the next level. After taking the time to read, evaluate, and provide constructive criticism it is frustrating to hear someone resents your efforts, so many peer group writers simply encourage, “it’s great, write on!”

    @Chris Mower – I have tutored college students also, and I find it helpful to remember that my task is not to show them how I would write their papers, but where they can improve their papers. Perhaps you call that a 3, but I know from experience that even that sort of assistance can lead to accusations that the student didn’t write the paper. If I took a paper apart and had the student reorganize my way, he would have less defense against that claim.

  • Andi says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Last night I made a decision with my heart and while I would have welcomed others opinions, since it was a big decision, I decided ultimately it didn’t matter because my heart was already set. Thanks for the unsolicited confirmation!!! 🙂

  • Miriam says:

    Chris, excellent post. Most been said already ;). Wanted to say enjoy your posts and bang on with this one 🙂

  • Peter Graham says:

    I saw a saying somewhere that goes along the lines of “Be who you are , say what you feel, because those that mind don’t matter and those that matter don’t mind”.
    I usually will ask for advice when I need it and give advice when asked for it but hate being preached to.

  • Chris Mower says:

    @Tammi. Yeah, the worst thing to do is to “write” the paper for them. Or if it’s not a paper, change their ideas to your ideas. People have the good ideas and sometimes just need objective feedback and a guide to know how to organize their ideas.


    Not related to papers…

    Some of the best advice is not objective, but a sincere un-cloaked opinion. The hard part is not freaking out when you get it, ha ha.

  • Lynny Young says:

    Love reading your posts, Chris. You inspire me.

    I think trusting our instincts is important. Getting to the goal isn’t always where we find the most gems – those are often unearthed during the journey. I find the people who have worried the most about my outcomes were usually just ‘afraid.’ Afraid I would change too fast, afraid they couldn’t keep up, afraid that I’d love them less. They forget that while our point of view is unique, truly BIG adventures take an army to manifest.

    Onboard. Where’s the next stop?

  • Robbie Mackay says:

    I’m actually thinking of joining a few groups where I know people won’t agree with me, may not believe in my ideas and will probably challenge me… but again the key bit here is knowing what I’m looking for. I have some trusted advisors and friends (though mostly friends more then advisors).. and those who are just great for affirmation.. it pays to remember which is which.
    Great post. Thanks 🙂

  • Lex Mosgrove says:

    Great advice, thank you! I especially needed that last paragraph – so far for affirmation. 🙂 As a matter of fact, I lately went the bold route when asking people for some honest and constructive criticism, probably coming across as smug or somesuch, but it works wonders (and I do like the sight of slightly shocked faces).

  • Heather says:

    Ha, yes. I have one friend in particular who endlessly asks for feedback on whatever she’s up to – I’ve learned the conversation won’t end until I figure out what she actually wants to do, and tell her to do that. Personally I’ve become very wary of asking for advice/affirmation for the reasons you mention. Though at least I think my job as a professional editor has taught me to be more careful when friends hand me their work to critique (metaphorically or not). Took me a long time to realize people actually cared about what I said!

  • CYNT says:

    I just got some comments for my business plan. First of all I did it because I wanted to have order in my ideas, second because that would allow me to access some funding for my green business. At the end it was a great experience but what I thought it would be a very constructive session of feedback and “let me help you” final session became a terrible negative feedback not only for my biz but for the whole group… So then why taking the 2 months to work with each one of us in our business plan to destroy it and say “that wont work” at the end??
    Thanks Chris, this article remind me what sometimes I forget in my passionate path for a greener life… Some people do not believe!
    It answered all my questions… :o)

  • Anshul Gupta says:

    Good thoughts…

    Well it is easy said then done! Because most of the time a true advice/opinion creates a lot of pain. And we never know (except when you know that the person is unbiased) whether the person giving us advice is acting on some hidden interests or not.

    But realizing the cognitive biases in human thinking is the first good step taken in the right direction of getting healthy advices…


  • Karen Nilsen says:

    I’ve been subscribing to your blog for awhile, and you have a bizarre, wonderful gift for posting something inspirational right when I’m at my lowest. The post about Hafiz’s poem about the sage dropping keys for the prisoners a few months ago comes to mind. This post about unsolicited advice definitely helped me on a day I had gotten some feedback from someone who doesn’t share my vision. Thank you!

  • bek says:

    Very Carl Rogers of you combined with a tad Freud.

    – Close trusted contacts for “review” is the way to go. Anyone who really doesn’t know you, your problem, or share in your area of expertise won’t provide any solid review analysis/recommendation.

    – When a person voices the “review” question, they are really initiating self analysis/discovery. Giving them a listen only increases self awareness / understanding give them a chance to find the answers themselves.

    Listening is underrated in America.

  • Victoria says:

    I think getting honest opinions and any kind of advice is great. I get to see my own situation with different eyes. Whether I’ll actually believe the opinion or take the advice is a differnt thing.

    Loved that last part (“your heart can lead you astray, but at least it will be a more enjoyable ride”). It was great reading the comments, too. This is about the third or fourth time I read through ALL of the comments.

  • Cindy says:

    Chris, I read your words every time they hit my inbox. I don’t always comment, but it’s not because I haven’t taken something of value away. Usually, it has something to do with time. Not enough hours in the day. However, you nailed exactly what I’ve been doing. Kind of waiting around for something to happen. Thanks for the kick in the butt. You make so much sense all the time. I sit here and shake my head and say “Why didn’t I think of that?” 🙂

  • Thomas Clements says:

    I received my first newsletter today and I’m really enjoying what you have to say. It’ not the 7 steps to success, but ideas that spark my own creative ways to do things. Being an artist-painter is a challenging occupation and your words help create a synergy for me. Thanks

    Tom Clements

  • Ilyas says:

    CONSULT, v.i. To seek another’s disapproval of a course already decided on.

    (from “The Devil’s Dictionary” by Ambrose Bierce, via @farazrabbani)

  • Kristin says:

    Isn’t that the truth. Encouragement, and constructive criticism are not the same thing. There’s a time and place for both, but not always easy to tell which and when. Especially if someone says something as wide open as, “What do you think?”

  • Jason @ Filmmaking Stuff says:

    Thanks Chris. Being in the film world, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had unconventional ideas that (at first) made my colleagues think I was nuts. It takes courage to push forward. It takes courage to admit your set-backs when the ideas don’t pay off. But it is damn validating when ideas DO pay off!

    If you can help it, avoid asking for permission.

  • Leslie Strom says:

    My least favorite piece of unsolitcited advice is “Don’t burn your bridges!” Most of the bridge-burning I’ve done has turned out well.

  • Jacques Werth says:

    If Henry Ford had asked people if they wanted a faster horse, or a machine that could do the work of 20 faster horses, he might have sold more cars faster.

  • Kathryn says:

    One thing I’ve learnt is that if you don’t want people giving you advice on your private life/personal matters, don’t discuss it with them. You can’t have the priviledge of dumping your issues on other people and then expect them not to interfere… and if you don’t like it, too bad. I learnt that the hard way 🙂

  • Soniei says:

    Kathryn, that’s such a great idea!!! So, whenever someone asks me how my business is doing I’m just gonna say “Business? What business??” because, for the past 6+ years, everyone and their dog has advice for me. It gets old fast! I hate getting advice if I don’t ask for it… sometimes I’m just not emotionally strong enough to take advice at that moment, OR I think it’s just none of their business, OR I already have my own plan / way of handling my challenges, OR, etc etc. However, when I do ask for advice, let me have it.. good or bad.. ’cause I’m ready for it. But until I actually ask for advice, shhhhhh! :p

Your comments are welcome! Please be nice and use your real name.

If you have a website, include it in the website field (not in the text of the comment).

Want to see your photo in the comments? Visit to get one.