Never Take Advice From Somebody You Wouldn’t Trade Places With

“Never take advice from somebody you wouldn’t trade places with.”

Chris Voss, a former lead hostage negotiator for the FBI, used that rule as his filter while climbing the ladder from local cop to a high-ranking Federal job. It’s an extremely useful piece of advice on advice taking.

Lots of people are happy to tell us what to do in our lives and careers. Early on, we naively assume that most “tips” must somehow be relevant, especially when everyone seems smarter/better/more successful than we are. But, over time, we start to notice the contradictions and/or the lack of specificity “This lady said this, but that one said that – who is right?  “That’s probably good general advice, but how do I…?” We all need a filter.

Voss’ rule cuts to the heart of it – if the advice is coming from a person who already figured out how to get somewhere we’d like to go, we should definitely listen. If they haven’t, we can still take it, just with a grain of salt. We don’t need to dwell on tips from people that aren’t where we want to be. The same rule holds true for giving advice too. It’s ok to not have any advice to give, or even better – to frame what we can offer as, “I can only speak generally from my background, but I’ve found…”

There’s also a difference between “how to do” advice and “how to feel” advice. With clients, often times the “what should I do” question requires a combo answer of “take this prescribed action, and then give yourself permission to feel more confident.” They want to switch places emotionally with where we are, not necessarily swap stations with us. We can’t get swept up in the technical details of what to do and overlook the emotional reality of how to feel about it.

We can all use Voss’ filter, both in taking and giving advice. Rarely, good advice will come from a surprising place, but rest assured that it will still push through your filter. For the rest, if you wouldn’t trade places with them right now, say thanks, take what you can, and move on.

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