Making the Most of Conflicting Advice From Mentors

Making sense of conflicting advice is challenging at all career stages, but it is a critical workplace skill.

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Knowing how to handle conflicting advice is a critical workplace skill. Conflicting advice is more common today because amplified complexity and uncertainty open the door to multiple opinions. Greater workplace diversity also makes conflicting advice more likely: When mentors bring different perspectives, experiences, or backgrounds to the table, they may offer clashing guidance.

For example, Oscar was just offered a new job at another company. Taking the job would mean a higher salary and more leadership responsibilities. But he loves working with his current boss and colleagues, and he really likes his company’s culture.

Faced with this big career decision and unsure what to do, Oscar hopes his three longtime mentors will guide him as they have in the past. But each of them steers him in a very different direction. The first mentor, his boss, strongly urges Oscar to stay in his existing job. She says waiting for a promotion and pay raise at a place he really likes makes the most sense. A second mentor — a colleague in another department — urges Oscar to take the new job, reminding him that he’s been bored for a while and wants more responsibility. The third mentor, whom Oscar met at a conference years ago, advises Oscar to use the job offer to negotiate a promotion at his current company.

Getting conflicting advice from his mentors might seem like a good thing; Oscar can now see three different possible paths and consider which one to follow. Yet his situation is stressful. He looks to his mentors for guidance, but their disagreement about the job offer makes his decision seem less clear, not more. And because he relies on his mentors for sponsorship and support, he worries that any decision he makes could damage his relationship with one or more of them. If he chooses one mentor’s advice, will he annoy or even anger the others?

Our research shows that mentees tend to make better decisions if they embrace and work through conflicting advice. For example, if Oscar sees his mentors’ differing suggestions as a platform for thoughtful reflection and discussion, he can figure out what he really wants and values. He can rationally compare the pros and cons of each idea — and use his gut reaction to identify which path feels right to him.

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