Bad Advice

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If you haven’t read the Heath brothers’ books, including Made to Stick and Switch, you really should. They write entertainingly while providing useful and practical advice on how we can change perspectives and behaviors.

In their book Decisive, they write that thinking through what you’d tell a friend in the same position can provide one way to stop mulling a difficult choice.

I thought of the Heath brothers’ advice when reading an article in Johns Hopkins Magazine about a hilarious blog called Ask the Past by historian Elizabeth Archibald. In her humanities research, Archibald has turned up highly curious—and comical—guidance from the past, including ensuring a cat’s undying loyalty through rubbing its nose and legs with butter for three days straight and lengthening and blackening your hair through slathering it in oil boiled with a decapitated green lizard.

Clearly, we should take advice even from friends and “experts” with grains—spoons, buckets, truckloads—of salt.

Amused, I went to the Twitterverse to ask people about the worst advice they’ve ever gotten.

In response, Will Pora chalked “buy the extended warranty” in the bad advice category. My pal @_melissa pointed out that the commonly heard “just keep doing what you’re doing”—no matter the situation—provides no help whatsoever.

Personally, I found most dating advice completely unhelpful. Most times, I ignored it. When I did take it—including making the man do all the work to further the early-stage relationship, from initial contact to the first move—my attempt at suavity backfired. (In my experience, the guy just assumed a lack of interest due to minimal encouragement and moved along to other options.)

Some of the business advice I’ve gotten has led me down bad paths as well. I’d heard so often that personal lives should stay out of the office that I went through a stint without sharing even the most mundane outside-the-workplace details.

Although I do believe it inappropriate to spill messy, overly detailed personal stories in an office setting, giving insight into why you might seem a little distracted or tired can provide understanding and perspective that help everyone work together more smoothly. (Tip: Nothing is ever purely business. Life happens outside the office that affects what happens in the office. And besides: Work comprises far too much of people’s existence for it to have no personal resonance.)

What bad advice have you gotten? And did you take it?