Tips for Getting Helpful Advice from Friends

Blog Post #1

This Morning, I had brunch with friends at Sava’s (great place for brunch, and they absolutely did not pay me to say this). One of my friends, let’s call him Lee, who is usually a sunshine, seemed really bothered since the moment he joined our table. After finishing our delicious dishes, he suddenly spoke up. It turned out that, as a senior, he was freaking out by the fact that he did not know what he should do in the future. Then he started asking for our suggestions about graduate programs, but I did not think that we could give any constructive advice since he is the only engineering student among all four of us by the table. His desperate ask for advice reminded me of our discussion on Chapter XXIII of Machiavelli‘s The Prince this week.

In The Prince, Machiavelli points out several crucial steps for a prince’s taking counsel. First of all, he needs to choose wise men, based on his standards. He then should give counselors liberty to speak truthfully and only on things about which he asks. Last but not the least, the prince should always do not hesitate to seek advice from counselors, listen to them, but most importantly, form HIS OWN conclusion. For princes, the most important part of this process is reaching their own decisions, so that he could never be manipulated by counselors that give advice for their own interests instead of the country’s or the prince’s. Similarly, we should make sure to take advice cautiously, because it is our opinion that matters the most even though we are asking somebody that knows a lot more than we do. However, I do not actually have knowledge on whether my friend will make decisions based on solely his standards or give too much credit to our conversation over brunch. One thing I do know is that Lee failed to follow the first two steps Machiavelli suggests.

Lee should not ask for our opinion in the first place, not because the rest of us are not wise people, but because we have no idea what his choices mean to his future career and life. He studies Aerospace Engineering, but the rest of us are all LSA students who know little about either aerospace or engineering. What did he expect us to contribute to his list of pros and cons about whether he should pursue a master program in another major? Of course, we would love to help him out, because we are good friends of his, but we couldn’t, due to lack of knowledge on this subject. At least I don’t think we can give better suggestion and analyze the problem better than his academic advisers and professors. In this context, the professors and advisers are the “wise men” that Machiavelli mentions in his work, not us. Also, as students who are potentially going through the same “I don’t know what to do” situation, we do not have substantially more life experience or professional knowledge than our peers. Thus, giving Lee career/life suggestions is not a good idea as far as I’m concerned, especially when my career path is completely different from his. Here is an inspiring article that suggests not to give advice to friends and examines more reasons that support this argument.

After counseling Lee on his choice of master program, my friend Wendy at the table diverted the topic to job hunting, which Lee did not inquire originally. However, Lee just followed Wendy’s lead and changed the conversation from graduate program selection to job hunting preparation, which was another mistake he made when asking for advice, according to Machiavelli’s perspective. He let his counselor comment on an issue he did not even ask about. As a result, we mainly talked about job searching instead of master program during the rest of the meal. If Lee were a prince, he would be easily swung by his counselors and taken advantage of, because he was not able to make counselors only talking about what he inquired. “Prince Lee” would probably go to bed every night regretting on his failure to get helpful advice on subject.

Admittedly, it is unfair to compare Lee, my nice and open-minded friend, with princes at whom Machiavelli’s work targets, because they are dealing with completely different problems and people. However, the way we should seek advice is common. Seeking advice from other people is always an applaudable behavior, but how we can get helpful suggestion is trickier than we think and requires techniques and practicing. Not everyone around us is a suitable consultant for every question we have, and in fact, there are only a few people that can help us with a particular question. The challenges are that we need to find the right person and focus on what we want to know. And as Machiavelli suggests, form your own conclusions afterwards. Next time when you want to get helpful suggestions, think twice before you go to your best friend. Also, when a friend is asking for your advice, make sure that you can help him/her with that problem before giving suggestions warm-heartedly.

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3 thoughts on “Tips for Getting Helpful Advice from Friends

  1. Pingback: A commentation on NNYOU’s post (Machiavell’s thoughts about advice) | THE BIG HOUSE OF IDEAS

  2. I clearly see the comparison between your social interaction and Machiavelli’s The Prince. It is a very effective way of demonstrating the importance of choosing the methods in which we ask for advice. As Machiavelli states, not all consultants can be trusted as some may have their own agendas, and even if a consultant gives genuine, intelligent advice, it is best to consider one’s own thoughts. As no consultant can have personal expertise as a prince, none of Lee’s friends had knowledge of his major and career path. Lee should focus primarily on his own values as his decision will affect his life. In his case more than a prince’s situation, his own advice will have an enormous impact on his life, while barely affecting the lives of others. A prince on the other hand, if he only considers his own advice, will be affecting all of his subjects. This difference is a clear indication that Lee can ask for advice, but should mainly trust himself. Counsel is always important, but whether in politics or in general life decisions, one’s own values are, and have always been better methods of judgment. No leader becomes a prince without knowledge, and no aerospace engineering major makes it through college without intelligence, so Lee should have no problem making the right choice on his own! I wish him the best of luck.

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  3. I like how you compared Machiavelli’s account of receiving advice to a casual event that occurred in your daily life. Although it is true, as you mentioned, that the perspectives of a prince and your friend Lee and the situation each of them are facing is quite different, I do think that Machiavelli’s thoughts of getting the appropriate advice can pertain to anyone who attempts to receive advice in today’s society. However, I think your description of how Wendy diverted the discussion topic is not really an appropriate example of a violation of Machiavelli’s second principle of advice, as Wendy did not initiate the conversation about job hunting to expand his advice about graduate programs to your friend Lee, but rather was just interested in changing the topic of the conversation that was going on among your peers.

    – Byung Joon Lee

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