Vetting your advisers


Would you consider yourself an expert in your field? I’d bet that even if you’re the world expert on something, you still collect input and observations from other people on your special area. In fact, there’s probably no other way to become an expert! And for the rest of us it’s even more important to find trustworthy advisers to help inform our important judgements and decisions. But finding those people can be difficult and too often we end up turning to people who can’t really offer us the input we need. In this post, we’ll consider six questions you should ask yourself before you turn to someone for advice. Bottom line – we all need to be vetting our advisers!

1. Do they have expertise on this topic – and if so, how is their track record?

Over the last couple of years, we’ve all considered the issue of expert advice. With COVID raging, we’ve watched public opinion dramatically split on the question of where we can find trustworthy health advice on vaccines. But rather than poke that hornets’ nest, let’s consider another common decision many of us have faced – the question of whether or not to invest in a property. In that situation you naturally want advice from someone who understands the property market and can answer your question: ‘Is this a sound investment?’ In that scenario, you want to find an expert – someone who has a proven track record, rather than a self-assured snake-oil salesman. For more on this topic, check out our podcast interview with Lachlan Vidler, titled ‘The Property Investor‘.

2. Do they listen properly when you ask questions? 

Poor listeners will settle for getting the general gist of your dilemma and then start offering their opinion. As the late great Stephen Covey once said, ‘Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.’ Good listeners are hard to find, so value them when you find them. If your adviser doesn’t bother listening carefully, they’re likely to miss key information and provide irrelevant or second-rate advice. And if they never ask questions, they’re either incredibly smart and intuitive – or they’re more interested in talking than understanding.

3. Do they ask you questions to make you reflect?

Good listeners ask questions to help them understand, good mentors ask questions to help you understand. A ‘coach’, who can help you to reflect and understand yourself and your motivations offers something different to an ‘oracle’ who dispenses wisdom impersonally like a fortune cookie. If you’re talking to an expert, it might be useful to be on receive mode and listen to their pearls of wisdom. But in most other circumstances, you want to be part of a two-way conversation that helps you understand both the issue and yourself better.

4. Have they ever told you something you didn’t want to hear (but needed to)? 

How honest and candid is your adviser? For different reasons – sometimes because of a lack of courage or sometimes because we’re afraid to hurt the person – we are not always willing to tell people things that they might not like to hear. If a person is a wonderful encourager, then go to them when you need encouragement. But if they aren’t  likely to challenge or contradict you, then they might not be the most useful person to turn to for advice. Alternatively, you could try to change the relationship dynamic by urging them to speak frankly and share any concerns. But be aware, some potential advisers won’t be able to make that change.

5. Are they opinionated on a lot of matters? 

Opinionated people tend to see the world in a binary way, and often think there is a right way and wrong way of doing things. It’s not a big step from opinionated to judgemental. Over the years, I’ve become wary of asking those kind of people for their views. Without a doubt, they’ll always have an opinion and they’ll always be keen to tell you what it is, even if you haven’t asked. And if you don’t want to go to the trouble of thinking for yourself, they’ll do it for you. But their narrow perspective will rule out a lot of good options that you might be considering. And you will often find that such people can be personally offended when you don’t follow their advice.

6. Do they actually care whether or not you make a good decision? 

While this isn’t essential, it certainly raises my confidence that the person will make a real effort to help me get it right. For that reason, reaching out to a respected or influential person who doesn’t really know you might not be the best idea. If they walk away after the conversation and don’t really give you a second thought, I’d question how much consideration they put into their advice. And of course an adviser who knows you well is able to tailor their input specifically to you in a way that a stranger or occasional acquaintance can’t. As I said, this isn’t a deal-breaker, but something to consider.


Before you rush to ask someone for their opinion or input, consider how much they know, how honest they will be with you and, more broadly, how they give advice. Are they self-aware as well as knowledgeable? Are they as good at listening as they are at talking?

My Dad was a doctor, but was a great sounding board for all kinds of non-medical issues. If I asked him a medical question, he would speak with experience and authority. But if I asked his opinion on something outside of his area of expertise he had the humility and self-awareness to acknowledge that he wasn’t an authority on that topic.  That is the mark of a great adviser.

Before asking for advice on an important issue, we should vet our advisers carefully – and then pay attention to what they have to say. But remember that your obligation is to listen to their advice, not necessarily to follow it. It’s your decision after all.

Judge well!

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