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Ordinary People Taking Action
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Recently, a legal colleague and I were absorbed in a conversation reflecting on the difference between the following words: advice, opinion and counsel. I enjoy spending time with people who think in unique ways, something my legal colleague excels at. I value this diversity of thought.
During our lunch, a Google search of the three words led to an online dictionary. There, we found these definitions:
This conversation arose from a discussion about advice I was given with regards to Thinking People Consulting needing errors and omissions insurance. I had heard mixed opinions about whether this was necessary. In the end, I took the counsel’s recommendation and purchased the insurance. How is that for using all three words together? See, they get confusing.
The conversation with my colleague got me thinking about the subtle differences in these words.
In my experience, opinions are typically offered quickly, almost without thought. Opinions can come across as information that is grounded in data, fact or experience – yet opinions are often perceptions or even based on misinformation. Opinions are important and yet require careful attention when processing.
When someone gives advice, on the other hand, they are telling you what they think or would do. Advice given by someone knowledgeable is often valuable. Say, for example, getting advice from a licensed and experienced tax accountant. Advice, when it comes from someone with indisputable expertise, can be extremely useful.
When advice comes from those who aren’t knowledgeable, however, it can get messy – and quickly. That’s because advice comes from someone’s individual perspective. Perspective is formed from your experiences and current situation, which tend to vary from person to person. That’s where advice can be tricky. I wonder if what people refer to as “bad advice” is just the natural result of two people in different circumstances trying to solve the same problem.
When someone is trying to help you sort through your thoughts without telling you what to do or how to do it, I think that is counsel. Yet, because the definition of counsel has the word “advice” in it, it’s confusing to differentiate the two. And, because counsel seems so formal, we might steer away from it.
Counsel, I think, comes with inquiry – lots of questions. Sometimes the same question is asked in numerous different ways – like lawyers in a trial. After questioning, someone giving counsel will often restate what was said, to confirm that their interpretation is accurate. Then, they may provide a different perspective and point of view. During counsel, you’re not told what to do or think; rather, you’re given different ways to act on or think about the issue.
As you go about your day today, consider thinking about the words you use. Are you providing advice, opinion or counsel?