As a performer, but more so as a teacher and producer, I get asked for all sorts of advice on all things burlesque business on a fairly regular basis. I am honoured that people think highly enough of me that they ask, and am always happy to pass on knowledge. As an avid social media user, I see people asking for advice to wider interest groups, and I have discovered that I have a pet peeve about it. I‘ve noticed more and more that when someone asks for advice, they generally get another person’s preference with no description of why that’s their preference. Now you may be swearing at me at this point thinking, “that’s what advice is”. Well yes but no. More so no. In fact no, not at all. It’s not advice. It’s your opinion. Which means it’s probably only one option, it’s relevant to you only and not actually helpful to the person asking for the advice.
Having had this done to me previously, it was so frustrating and upsetting. I once asked someone in the know for advice and instead of giving me the options and pros and cons so I could make an informed decision, I got told that I shouldn’t be thinking about the subject and they refused to provide me any information at all. Now this was an opportunity to educate, and this person passed it up because of their opinion. They could have said they didn’t support the idea and refer me onto somewhere I could get the information but instead they flat out refused and rudely advised me not to consider it. It was disappointing as this person was in a position of responsibility and supposed to be knowledgeable and supportive of me. Suffice to say I have never gone back to, nor recommended them to anyone.
On the flipside, I recently saw someone asked for advice on a common burlesque prop. By the time I got around to providing my two cents worth, half a dozen people had piped up with supplier names and what types they like, but none of them had justified why they liked that type, or why they should contact that supplier. I could have said my preference but maybe the person wanted to do a different style of routine which it would not have been suitable for. I didn’t know what she wanted. All she asked for generalised advice, so generalised was the advice I gave.
I gave her a list of different uses for each type and material used to make the prop, and then gave her the names of some trusted suppliers I knew so she could look at the different types and ask more questions. I didn’t tell her whether I thought they were expensive or not, I didn’t say I thought “such’n’such company” was the best suppliers, I simply gave her enough information that she could form an idea of her own and then research it further. Not expecting more than a “like” on the comment, I was pleasantly surprised when the following day she took the time to send me a private message, thanking me for the information as it gave her enough knowledge to start forming her own opinion and make an informed decision.
Now, there is a lot of information out there and the internet is a dangerous place for it! Having access to knowledgeable people to make sense of that information is sometimes invaluable. Personal preference may help to provide a level of advice but is mostly it just shows one side of the story. It doesn’t look at options and give factual information on each one.
So here’s my “opinionated advice” for giving advice (the irony is not lost on me!):
Have the knowledge
Try not to give advice on things you don’t know about. Personal experience may count as knowledge, but make sure you’re clear that it’s your opinion from personal experience. It should be noted that many difference personal experiences can help to provide collective and quality advice.
There’s no shame in not knowing. If you know where to get the information or know someone who might, pass on that link. It could be useful to them!
Make it relevant to the person asking for the advice
This isn’t about you, it’s about them. What are they looking for? Can you give options? If you can’t (or won’t) give options, it’s probably an opinion/preference. Don’t be preaching to them!
Give options. You don’t have to like all the options but you should still give them. Give pros (and if relevant the cons) of each option, and be factual. Then if you still feel the need to, you can add your opinion/personal preference at the end but make sure you say why it’s your preference. If you forget that justification, you may come across as being condescending and even good advice may be ignored as a result.
If they have come to you specifically for the advice, take a moment to thank them.
This person has taken the time to seek you out and to ask you a question. They trusted you enough to help them. “Thank you for asking for my advice” is not difficult to say and shows that you appreciate them respecting you enough to do so.
It is a privilege to be in a position to offer advice, so be grateful for it. One day they might stop asking you and that may not be a good thing!