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We all want to take our earnest friend’s advice when we’re facing down crisis or opportunity—but is their guidance always for the best?

Well-meaning friends, coaches, coworkers, and mentors all have something to say as you grow your business. It’s not always helpful guidance, but how do you know what is?

Operating a business often requires seeking out advice, learning from others, and getting second opinions. That’s why you need to have a solid set of criteria to help decide whether guidance, opinions, and suggestions from others are useful for your situation.

Evaluate Your Friend’s Advice in 4 Steps

Here are four simple steps to help you sort the useful guidance from the not-so-useful guidance when seeking help from others.

1. Reflect on Your Emotional and Mental State

Chances are, if you are seeking a friend’s advice, then you’re probably facing a dilemma. You may feel doubtful, uncertain, or even frustrated. It’s good to acknowledge these feelings and to identify the source of your worries. 

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but desperately seeking solutions and your friend’s advice without forethought can lead to dead ends. Identify what has you feeling uncertain, then measure advice against those obstacles—can the suggestion address the source of your uncertainty, or are you just hearing what you want to hear?

2. Evaluate Your Sources

It might feel impolite to doubt a friend’s advice, but in matters of business, they may not have the insight you need. Many figures may offer an opinion—friends, family, your consultants, your therapist, a coworker, a mentor—but their areas of expertise and the quality of their advice will vary according to their experience and understanding of your issue.

Friends, life coaches, and therapists may have great advice for personal dilemmas: when you’re doubting your work-life balance, or feel like you are sacrificing your private goals for your business. When it comes to business management, branding, or matters of money, you’ll want to check with consultants, advisors, and those with experience in your field.

Whenever money is a topic of concern, it’s not a bad idea to seek out a second opinion from a neutral party who doesn’t have a stake in your business operations.

3. See What the Data Says

Here’s a simple rule of thumb: good advice doesn’t lie and has facts to back it up. It’s great if your gut is telling you to listen to someone, it means what they’re saying resonates with your predicament, but you need to follow up with some research.

If someone offers advice based on an anecdote or experience, see if you can look up other case studies or business strategies—can you repeat their actions with consistent results? Or were they just lucky? Do you see trends in your analytics that validate the friend’s advice, or does it tell another story? Even experts with credentials should be expected to back up their advice with sound reasoning and evidence. See if your confidants can break down their reasoning, if they can show cause and effect, and if they have examples.

4. Ask: Can I Apply This?

Remember step 1? Recognize that you are worried, doubtful, or at an impasse, and identify the source of these concerns. Imagine you’ve asked someone you trust for their opinion—they’ve provided advice that resonates with your situation, and it even seems backed up with evidence, what more do you need? Well, you need to know if this advice tells you what you can do.

It’s remarkably easy for very general statements to appear like good advice without providing a course of action. These might be personal suggestions like “appreciate the small things in life” and “find room for self-care,” or they might be professional jargon like “watch your finances” and “expand your audience.” Always ask for concrete steps—people to contact, numbers to watch, schedules to fill, goals to set—to avoid confusing emotional reassurance with a real, implementable strategy.

Take It or Leave It

By identifying the source of your concern, evaluating your sources’ expertise, fact-checking your friend’s advice, and planning future action, you will be able to separate good advice from well-intentioned misdirection.