Opinions Are Like… – 2 Tips for Making the Most of Advice

I often solicit advice from coaches and teammates, and sometimes I offer opinions to others about their training. Here are 2 tips that will serve you well, as either advice giver or receiver.

What’s that saying that compares opinions and a certain body part? That everyone has one, but sometimes they stink? In my everyday life, I do not frequently have difficulty finding someone – usually many someones – who are eager and willing to give me their opinion, whether or not I actually ask for it. I suspect the same may be true for others. And if I’m being completely honest, I have no problem offering my opinion about many topics, some of which I might know something about, and some of which I might not know as much about.

In many cases, I do want to know what others think. In my athletic endeavors, for instance, of course I actively solicit advice from coaches and teammates when I want help with movement patterns, strategies, scheduling activities and rest, and other aspects of the training experience. And in some contexts I serve up opinions about how other people should be doing those things too.

But when soliciting or offering opinions, it is wise to consider a couple guiding principles to make sure the advice you are giving and/or dispensing is appropriate, helpful, and motivated by the right things – or by what, in my opinion, are the right things. Read on for two suggestions about how to make sure the opinions circulating around you smell like roses rather than something less appealing.

1. Whose Needs Are Being Met

First, whose needs are being met? I have my father to thank for ingraining in me the habit of asking this question. Theoretically, when someone is asking for and/or receiving advice, it is that asker who benefits from the interaction. In other words, I need information or ideas, and I get it from someone who has it to give. But oftentimes, people who offer advice are doing it to fill a need of their own and are not even necessarily thinking about the needs of the asker. (Maybe you’ve noticed this yourself.) Maybe they are trying to shore up their confidence by showing what they know. Maybe they want attention. Maybe they have something to sell. Who knows? I don’t want to imply that everyone who is offering advice is doing so with malicious intent, or that the advice isn’t useful, at least in part. But not everyone’s motivation is going to be specifically or only about helping you. In my experience, everyone is just trying to get what they need. This is why we all would do well to do the same.

2. Beware of “You Should”

opinions, giving advice, taking advice, soliciting advice, coaching, trainingSecond, use “you should” as a signal to ask questions about the criterion/criteria that are being used. If my grappling coach says, “Val, you should drill this sequence,” I’m going to drill the sequence. If my weightlifting coach says, “Val, you should concentrate on keeping your weight in your heels,” guess what I’m going to do? The reason I’m going to do these things is because experts have advised it. It is their job to do this, and arguably I trust them to do so because I keep coming back.

But it can get murky. If a teammate says, “Val, you should follow my training schedule because it works perfectly for me,” I’m going to ask myself what criteria this teammate is using to decide this for me. Are those criteria relevant to me? For instance, it’s possible the training regimen of a 25-year-old, full-time male practitioner might not be the most appropriate for me. My teammate might have the best of intentions, but I have to filter these intentions through my own experience and my own needs.

So, when seeking advice to help you improve in your athletic pursuits or elsewhere, or when dispensing it in an attempt to help others do the same, keep the above suggestions in mind. Whose needs are being met, and what criteria are being used to guide the advice?

Ever taken advice from someone only to discover later that you might have done well to consider these suggestions? Post your experiences to comments.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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