- Chapter 4 -
GOOD ADVICE AND HELP
here is a great asset out there. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to call it a treasure. There for the gathering, the treasure is free in most cases. The trouble is that, to an amazing degree, people are too blind to see it or to recognize its value even if they are aware of its existence. The treasure is the advice and counsel available to all of us, on a daily basis.
- Those who don't want any advice whatever and make that fact known,
- Those who claim to want advice, but who really do not, and find reasons for rejecting it,
- Those who will not solicit advice but will consider it if it is offered.
- Then there are the real treasure gatherers, those people who seek advice, from as many sources as they can, and use it wisely. You, obviously, are in this category, or you would not be reading this.
Advancing age does not necessarily bring maturity. Many people grow older repeating the same mistakes over and over, with the same sets of excuses and rationalizations. It is a fascinating fact that people reach plateaus of maturity at different ages: fifties, forties, thirties, or even twenties. There are the perennial sophomores, and I had a young friend who said he knew some people who were senile at seventeen. Yet, there are a fortunate few who continue to grow mentally and spiritually as long as they live or retain their faculties. Why the difference? This last fortunate group of people continues to learn from experience. They keep their minds and feelings open. They can accept advice.
My business partner and I had an experience which demonstrates the resistance people have with regard to accepting advice, even when they have asked for it. We had a confectionery manufacturing business and hired an outside consultant to make recommendations about our manufacturing procedures. He came in with a drawing which he used to demonstrate how we should move our machinery and equipment around to get a better flow of product. We studied it and concluded the plan made sense.
"What's next?" we asked.
"What do you mean, 'What's next?'" he responded.
"Well, you've shown us this plan, which looks good, and we want to hear other recommendations."
He expressed amazement and went on to explain that his experience as a consultant was that although people think they want recommendations, and pay to get them, almost always their reactions are negative at first, and it becomes a selling or negotiation job. Most often he received responses like, "Oh, that won't work." or "We already tried that and it's no good."
Now, this does not mean that every recommendation of a consultant has to be accepted. All advice should be evaluated. But the response we had from our consultant shows the natural human reluctance to accept or even consider change, even when it is offered by someone whose judgment should be respected.
Most people can accept the idea of going for advice on a really important matter. When I was asked to serve on a Task Force to recommend whether or not the city should buy out the public utility and municipalize it, I knew it would be a long, arduous, thankless, unpaid, acrimonious, time-consuming task -- and it was all of those -- but the question was whether or not I could make a sufficient contribution or influence the results enough to make it worthwhile. Before I decided to serve on the committee, I picked out three people whose judgment I respected, and approached them with the request, "I would appreciate your wise counsel. I have a very difficult decision to make and need your advice." As a result of these consultations, I did serve.
Advice is also available on less consequential matters than whether to serve on a governmental task force. The open-minded approach on a daily basis is helpful: "What would you do under these circumstances?" or "How do you think we could solve this problem?"
People like to be asked for advice, particularly if you attribute wisdom to them, or if you indicate they know something you don't and you need their help. For instance, most individuals are ready to give street directions, not always out of kindness, although I do not want to denigrate that, but because they know something you don't, and they are pleased that you know they know it.
A startling idea to some people is to ask your children for advice. Try that thought on parents and you usually get a response such as, "I've never thought of that!" It can be done in terms of "What can we do about this problem?" or "What do you think of this idea?" Of course, the initial responses usually turn out to be calls for relaxation of family rules, changes in menus, and, depending on the age, more frequent use of the family automobile. But children will take the assignment more seriously if they know that their opinions are really considered, and that they will not be criticized, or made fun of, for unusual ideas.
Beneficial insights may result. There probably will be suggestions we would rather not hear, but which we ought to hear, such as, "Stop losing your temper so much." We learned at the Institute in Basic Life Principles, which sponsors helpful seminars annually around the country and which I highly recommend, that anger from their fathers is the most common complaint of teenagers. (The most common complaint of wives is said to be that their husbands do not tell them that they love them.)
Including children in family councils makes them feel good about themselves, especially if they come up with an idea -- any acceptable idea no matter how trivial -- and are praised for it. Furthermore, children are more likely to cooperate with a plan if they were consulted in the beginning.
But it is not just "out of the mouths of babes" that advice comes, although there is a special value in asking children for advice because of what it does for the relationship, not just for what is learned. People on all levels have ideas and information available for the asking. You are prepared to follow an usher in a theater who knows where your seat is, but there are others as well. A friend got some exceedingly valuable help with regard to her new baby from the cleaning woman.
Ask For Help
Ask people for help. Don't be trapped by the American cultural maxim that you should be independent, that you should always "do it on your own." It is an interesting discovery that people like to give advice, in most cases. I ask for help all of the time and don't feel like a weakling in doing so. I am also glad to give it.
An effective way of seeking help begins with the phrase, "I would appreciate it if you...........", as in "I would appreciate it if you would help me with my word processing. I'm stuck." Or, in speaking to your children, "I would appreciate your doing the dishes tonight, Jane." rather than, "Go do the dishes, Jane." Note that I did not suggest giving her a choice, just a method of expressing the need which is more likely to elicit a positive response.
People react more favorably to an appeal than to a demand. Some people feel that using such expressions as, "I would appreciate it if you would help me." or "I appeal to you not to do that again." has the element of weak supplication about it, whereas we are taught to be strong. There is a frequently used expression, "Deal from strength." Obviously, in a negotiation or a football game, it is desirable to have more strength on your side. But in personal relationships, trying to assume a position of strength, and making demands, is frequently counter-productive. Think of the person you are closest to. Wouldn't that person respond more readily to an appeal than to a demand? And wouldn't you too?
You Need Information and Explanation
Another form of requesting help is that of asking for information or explanations. This frequently happens when professionals, like any "in group", cultivate and thoroughly enjoy their polysyllabic phrases, code words, initials and acronyms and use them so much they forget that the rest of us, poor mortals, do not know what they are talking about. Many people believe it is demeaning to demonstrate ignorance in any area and then get lost in the discussion because of lack of knowledge of a basic point that is needed for comprehension.
When I was first in the oil business 40 years ago, I heard people talking about "kgs". At first, I was reluctant to ask for an explanation, but when I did, people were a little surprised that I was ignorant of the term because their thinking was, "Doesn't everybody know what 'kgs' is"? They explained it as a "known geological structure", a very important term in leasing Federal oil and gas lands for exploration.
Since then I have learned to say, "This is a new field for me, and I would appreciate your help. Will you please explain the term you just used." The response is almost always favorable as they demonstrate their knowledge.
Over a period of 22 years, I taught the "Economics of Real Estate" in the Tulane School of Architecture for the enjoyment of teaching and for the opportunity of meeting interesting young people. I wanted to encourage them to ask questions, so I had a little speech:"Please ask any question which comes to your mind. There is a difference between being ignorant in terms of a given subject and being stupid. I am ignorant in the field of architecture, but I am not stupid or I wouldn't be here. You are probably ignorant about real estate finance, but you are not stupid or you wouldn't be here. Now, to show you how ignorant I am in the field of architecture, before I started teaching this course, I thought a lintel was a vegetable. (Laughter.) So any guy who thinks a lintel is a vegetable deserves any question you can think of about a mortgage. Furthermore, if you don't understand something, there are twelve other guys in the class who don't either, and you will do us all a favor if you give me a chance to explain it."
In addition to the enjoyment, an advantage of teaching was that it increased my clientele, not only from the students but they told their friends who told their friends about the free service.