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Would you hire an auto mechanic to give you advice about open-heart surgery? Of course not, you’d likely go to a cardiologist. Hopefully, you’d seek out the best one you could afford. The idea of finding expert help may seem obvious in this extreme case, but how often do we seek expert advice in day-to-day matters? Let’s face it, on issues that we deal with daily, many people are willing to take shoddy advice from family, friends, or even strangers. Think about it, how many times have you received relationship advice from friends who have never had a great, long-term relationship? How about financial advice from someone who is typically broke or even professional advice from someone whose career is less than inspiring?

It’s not just bad advice that we take from others that can get us into trouble; it’s also our own poorly informed advice to ourselves.

After all, we aren’t experts in everything. How can we be sure that we get perfect advice every time? The answer is we can’t, but we have much better odds if we simply listen to those who are experts in the area we need help.

Years ago while taking a self-improvement course, I learned a bit of wisdom that would change my life indefinitely. In the course, we would present a problem to the group and receive feedback from the teacher as well as the fellow students. Some of this peer feedback was not helpful, while other times, it was extremely helpful. The teacher then pointed out the obvious lesson:

“Don’t take advice from someone who doesn’t have credibility in the area that you need help.” Said another way, “Don’t take advice from people who don’t have the specific results you are looking for yourself.”

This means when you are at the gym and some dude gives you advice on how to get the “perfect body,” you first look his body and ask yourself, “Is this the body I want? Does this guy have credibility?” If the answer is “yes,” listen to what he has to say and consider doing it. If the answer is “no,” politely thank him and go find someone that embodies the answers you’re looking for.

Let’s say a friend gives you relationship advice. Do his relationships seem loving and passionate? Do you admire this individual’s life in that area? If so, by all means, model your behavior after his and see if you get those same positive results. If not, be cautious. Your life equates to the sum total of your decisions, both good and bad.

Of course, I think it’s also important to mention that this goes for our own advice to others as well. Do you dispense advice in areas you don’t have credibility? If you do, I would advise for you to stop. I am not a stockbroker, and, personally, I know very little about the machinations of the market and how stocks work, but I once gave advice to a friend to buy a stock that had gone up significantly every year since the day I bought it. I just wanted my close friend to benefit as I had. Well, I’m sure you know where I’m going with this, but wouldn’t you know the day I told him, he went out and invested his whole savings on hundreds of shares of this one stock. To both of our surprise, after rocketing for over five years, the stock split and began to sink for the first time.

I felt horrible and wished that I could take back that advice. My friend lost more than half his savings, and because he never got expert advice, sold the stock and lost a good deal of money. Yes, this was his choice that he ultimately made, but it hurt our relationship nonetheless.

To make matters worse, as soon as he sold the stock, it then rebounded and did quite well. I tell you this not because it’s a unique story, but because this is an example of advice (with good intentions) gone horribly wrong.

No expert was ever called upon in this case. So as much as it wasn’t my fault (ultimately people make their own choices), I still felt guilty and somewhat responsible. Had my friend understood how to seek credible advice, this likely would have never taken place or, at the very least, moderated his losses. Looking back at this now as I have more knowledge of investments, a professional likely would have given him the advice to diversify (put his investment into a few different areas, not just one stock) in the beginning or advised him to hold the stock a bit longer, knowing that it would go back up with the economy as it did.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. It is possible to get great advice from people without the necessary experience you are looking for—whether it’s your own instinct, a good friend, or someone with a lot of education in a particular area. My whole point is to pause and ask yourself this question before proceeding: Does this source have credibility? Doing so will often save you time, money, and unnecessary anguish.

It feels good to give others advice. After all, we are taking on the role of an expert. It strokes our ego and makes us feel smart and well rounded, but, in the end, this can be dangerous. Yes, people can still get burned with experts, but it’s much less likely over the long haul.

So, lets go over the key questions you might consider when dispensing your wisdom or deciding from whom you might take advice:

1. Do you or this person have the positive results in the area you are giving advice?

2. Do you or this person have a good amount of education in the area in question?

3. Have you or this person made good life decisions in this area?

4. Is the advice you’re willing to offer good enough so that you aren’t unnecessarily risking a personal or business relationship?

So, the next time you need advice or give advice, ask yourself if this person has credibility.

This is my advice to share with you. Do I have credibility? Well, that is for you to decide. :-)


Michael Woolson has become one of the most prominent and respected acting coaches in Los Angeles. He is recognized for his unique ability to cultivate depth and authenticity from his students in an environment that is nurturing and inspiring. Woolson has worked with thousands of actors from talented up-and-comers to award-winning celebrities. He is the author of The Work of an Actor and Emotion on Demand: An Actor’s Workbook for Mastering Emotional Triggers.

For more, follow Michael on Facebook and Twitter.

*Photo Credit: See El Photo via Compfight cc