Learning & Development

What to Do When Mentees Encounter Bad Advice

The value of mentoring to mentees, mentors, and organizations in general has been well established. But what happens when mentors offer poor advice?

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One shocking yet real-world example: Sheryl Sandberg’s mentors once told her not to take the job as an executive at Google and not to take the job as Facebook COO—the very roles that have made her famous and successful.1

Here’s how to realize you’re receiving bad advice as a mentee and what you can do about it.

Is the Advice Sensible or Trustworthy?

When receiving advice, you should always question whether it’s sensible. This may seem obvious, but it isn’t as obvious as you’d think. For instance, if one of your mentors says, “Just hang in there, and it will happen,” you should ask yourself whether this is a sensible approach to attaining your goals. Will things really just happen if you aren’t working or doing anything specific to achieve your goals? Is it really sensible to just hang around and wait for things to come to you?

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If you can’t find the logic behind what your mentor is suggesting that you do, then you’ll probably want to ignore it or ask for more specific suggestions if he or she is open to it. Additionally, consider whether the advice your mentor is giving you has helped others like you in real life before. Do other mentees speak highly of his or her suggestions? Has your mentor experienced firsthand what you’re experiencing before? If so, then you can probably trust the advice he or she is offering.

Is the Advice Detailed, Containing Steps?

You’ll want to make sure your mentors aren’t simply offering platitudes and niceties like “Just do it” or “Keep trying,” etc. According to social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, good advice is concrete, detailed, and has steps.2 For instance, instead of mentors saying something like “Take action more often,” they’ll instead break down what you can do (in detailed steps) to take action more often. They’ll tell you where you can start, and they’ll advise you on how to specifically do what they’re advising.

Is the Advice Relevant to Your Goals?

This is, by far, the best way to identify bad advice from a mentor. While your mentor is most likely extremely well-meaning, he or she can still offer bad advice that isn’t at all relevant to your current situation, career goals, and personality.

When mentors are offering good advice, they’ll get to know you on a personal level and will ask questions about your current struggles, achievements, and long-term goals. And then they’ll tailor their advice to your specific circumstances and objectives. They won’t only consider their own circumstances or hypothetical scenarios when offering advice.

If you feel as if you’re receiving bad advice, learn to trust your instincts, and ignore it when necessary (like Sheryl Sandberg did). And if that proves difficult, simply ask yourself if you would pass along the advice you’re receiving from your mentors to others. If you wouldn’t, it’s probably bad advice you should ignore.

  1. Harvard Business Review.Five Signs that Your Mentor is Giving You Bad Advice.” Accessed 4/5/2018.
  2. Psychology Today.The Difference Between Good and Bad Advice.” Accessed 4/5/2018.

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