Advice is a strange thing. All of us will look at someone else, see that they might be messing up in some fashion, and immediately want to tell them what we believe they should be doing. Sometimes, they might not be doing anything wrong, just not doing it the way you'd do it, and you feel compelled to give them advice anyway.

I'm not one of those people. Well, I am the type that wants to say something, but I'm also the type that keeps those things to myself most of the time because I haven't been asked. Unless I'm asked, it will take an act of someone's god or the act of saving someone's life for me to say anything. Why?

I'm someone who doesn't ask for advice all that often. It's not that I'm perfect at everything, because I'm far from that. However, I've found that whenever I ask for advice, I rarely get advice on what I'm asking about unless I'm really specific with it. And even then, people feel like, since you've asked them about one thing, they have the right to tell you about things you didn't ask them about.

Frankly, I find that irritating. For instance, I might ask someone if they liked a concept of something I did, and instead they want to talk about the font I used, or the colors of the background. Unless they couldn't read what I'd written because the background color overwhelms the words, that's a personal choice, and not germane to the conversation.

There are times when advice isn't advice, as I highlighted in the linked post. Years ago I had a consultant come into my place of employment, tell me 61 problems my department had of which I knew 60 of them, and every single recommendation was to put more people on it. If I'd had all those people I wouldn't have needed him to tell me that; bad and useless advice.

I don't even give advice to people who have major problems in their life, unless their life is in jeopardy, and even then I'm very cautious. I've known some women who have suffered abuse at the hands of a spouse, and after having to learn a hard lesson the first time out (the woman wouldn't leave, and I had to just wash my hands of it eventually and move on) I realized that sometimes a person isn't ready to change and therefore anything I tell them is a wasted effort. But occasionally I have been able to make a difference in some fashion when I knew someone was out there on their own, kind of floundering, and really needing a friend to help them take charge of their life. When I was single I saw that all the time; nowadays that's a very rare occurrence.

However, when you're in a position of leadership, especially in the workplace, the rules change. Now if you don't give advice or recommendations it's your career that's on the line. There's nothing wrong with giving people freedom to do the job as long as there are no problems, but at the same time it behooves managers to make sure everyone is following at least the basics of what they're supposed to be doing correctly. That, plus how they interact with customers and each other is always very important.

And finally, if they're bringing certain personal problems to work, once again this is one of those times when you have to be willing to step up to the task of having a talk with them, although that talk has to be worded properly. I have had to have that "being abused" talk with an employee, and the initial advice was that I would not allow it to impact the department, and that if asked I would find ways to get that employee help through official means if needed, but that the last thing I was going to allow was someone to come in who didn't belong and disrupt the department. I would always let the employee know I was there and willing to talk, but that if it was the same thing over and over it wouldn't continue because I wouldn't waste my time with it at a certain point.

Is that harsh? To some it might seem so, but I always recall the words of Mr. Spock from Wrath of Khan: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one." Yes, every individual is important, but as a manager, you can't always allow yourself to get caught up in someone's spiraling personal life.

How and when do you give advice?