Seeking validation not advice?


Why do we ask for advice when all we seek is validation? A little while ago, someone approached me with two covers for their new book. They asked for my opinion as to which one I liked best. I told them neither and went into details as to why . . . this did not go well.

What followed was a series of emails back and forth with them trying to justify why I was wrong and how their choices were on brand and message.

Now, I did not have a dog in this fight. I was not his publisher, I was not backing the book, and I did not even know he was close to finishing his first draft. However, he asked me my opinion, I gave it, and then immediately regretted not just saying, “B looks fine, good luck,” and leaving it at that.

My mistake was that he did not want my opinion; he wanted confirmation and validation.

So, why do people ask for advice when all we seek is validation?

Unfortunately, this happens all too often and usually never with the outcome intended.

The person asking for validation thinks what they have done is amazing because they are invested in it. They have spent days, weeks, or months agonising over something in a vacuum, have finally decided to show it to people, and are disappointed when people do not love their idea as they do.

They put those asked in the position of either being honest and hopefully constructive or appeasing the person by saying that their ugly baby is beautiful.

No one wins in this situation; feelings get hurt, people become aggravated, and relationships are broken irreparably.

So, how do we fix this?

As those asking, we should never ask a question to which we don’t want to hear the answer. If we ask for people’s opinions, we should be open to hearing their criticism and either accepting it, or not, and then moving forward accordingly.

As those asked, we need to take the time to prod, to ask the questions that enable us to understand intent, before blurting out an answer. Some people may not be ready for that answer, and you can either ignore the question and move on, placate them or be truthful, knowing that your response might illicit a stronger response.

If we placate the person, we may send them down a rabbit hole. We are feeding them false positive information and giving them a reason to pursue something that we believe is not the best course of action.

However, there may be ramifications for this as well. If they pursue this course of action based upon your actions, and it fails, it could be you that they come back to blame with the phrase,”Why didn’t you say something?”

It is a fine dance, and it is up to us to decide how we wish to dance it.

I am a pull-the-band-aid-off quick kind of guy. I believe that giving my opinion, when asked, at least gives someone a perspective other than their own, and even if they disagree with it and don’t follow the advice, they have at least heard it.

That is the role of a consultant. To provide unpopular advice, tell the truth, or at least give our opinion. To be the naysayer in a room full of people nodding heads and patting people on the back. It is not always the popular position, but if you do not do so when appropriate, you never serve your client. 

CEOs can hire people to stroke their egos; a consultant’s job is not to do so. It is to present all sides and provide opinions that they believe are in the stakeholders’ best interest. 

If you cannot be that voice of reason, and deal with the consequences, then maybe that is not where you should spend your time and efforts.