A potential new client asked me if our firm ever took projects on a contingency basis, i.e. paid only on the basis of results. I explained to him that while we were not philosophically opposed to this idea, we wouldn’t do it unless we had absolute control over the implementation of any advice and recommendations we made. The simple truth is that people rarely take your advice completely, and frequently blame you for their failure when the parts they do take are not sufficient for them to reach their goals.

I learned this long ago from my kids. They would often ask my advice, but would only take the parts of that advice that were easy or pleasurable for them. When it didn’t work out, they blamed me for poor advice. Example: Son comes to me asking if it made sense for him to buy a reliable car but at a sum which he could barely afford. My advice: Cut back on other discretionary spending such as cellphone use, internet downloads, and dining out, and see if it liberates enough cash to cover the incremental cost of the car. Not rocket science.

A few weeks later he’s struggling to pay for the new car. His response: “I should never have taken your advice, this was a really bad idea!”. When I asked him if he had reduced his cellphone use and cut back on downloading full-length movies (for a fee), his answer was, “No…I need a LIFE”. I couldn’t speak with him for long as he was off to dinner at a new restaurant with his buddies.

And so it is in therapy. One of the reasons I got out many years ago, was that in general people were more comfortable in the unhappiness they knew, rather than in the potential happiness they might have if they made a few changes. They would invariably only take the easy advice and blame you for their failures.

So next time someone says you gave them bad advice, take a few minutes to probe what parts they actually implemented.