Should You Ask Your Friends and Colleagues for Advice?


By Jayaram V

If you are familiar with the behavior of Macaque monkeys, you will know that monkeys live in groups. Each group is like an extended family, headed by an alpha male. He takes the lead in defending the group against threats, ensures the regular supply of food and sets the standards of group behavior. The group will have a hierarchy, similar to the Hindu caste system, which is determined by birth. Those who are born to the mothers in the higher ranks enjoy higher rank which is relative to the mother's position in the hierarchy, while those who are born to the ones in the lower ranks have to remain contended with their lower ranks.

The social rank of each monkey in the group plays an important role in sexual relationships and the distribution of food. The higher ranking monkey enjoy the best cuts and portions, while the lower rank monkeys have to wait until the higher rank ones get their share. Only when the alpha male dies or when he grows old and weak, some monkeys may try to change their rank or force their way up.

Millions of years of genetic transformation and evolution have shaped the behavior of the monkeys. Their behavior is uniform across all groups in each species. From such observations one cannot fail to notice the amazing similarities between their behavior and human behavior and their group dynamics and ours. If one has any doubt about the factuality of the evolution of life upon earth, a study of macaque monkeys shall surely dispel it.

The dynamics of interpersonal relationships

Genetics and evolution of our brains play a vital role in your personal relationships. Nature wants us to be competitive and not trust anyone. All the emotions and resources are meant to forge relationships, which ensure our survival and help us stay away from anything that seem to threaten our Wellbeing.

A strong alpha male among humans may be successful in life, but he will be seldom appreciated by others in the group. They may fear him but do not really love him unless his success in some way contributes to their own. If you are strong and successful, know that most of your relationships will be based on fear and respect rather than genuine love and affection. This is the price of success you have to pay, knowing how Nature influences human behavior and relationships.

It is also why you cannot always trust certain relations in your life for advice or rely upon it, especially if you are successful or well-placed. Again, it is Nature which is at play here. Your friends and colleagues prefer you to be at the same level as they are or below it, but not above them. They know that if you become successful and move into higher levels, your equation with them will change forever and you may not be the same person again.

The observation may not be true with every relationship, but most of them fall into the pattern. It is even more pronounced in organizations and businesses. Your professional friends and colleagues, except those who depend upon you, may congratulate you when you get a promotion or when you successfully complete a project or achieve profits, but inwardly most of them will be seething with anger or discontent for their own failure to achieve the same level of success. Unfortunately, in a closed system every gain that you make means a loss to someone.

Hence, apart from your parents, grandparents, children, spouse and a few close friends, relations and colleagues, you may not find many trustworthy people in your relationships whose advice you can really trust. Most of your friends and colleagues cannot think clearly about you or give you a genuine advice, because their judgment and thinking become clouded by many factors. In this regard, the following are worth considering.

  1. 1. Your relationship and attitude towards them. If you were not good to them in the past, or if you were cold and aloof they may secretly despise you and become prejudiced about you.
  2. 2. Fear. They may be afraid to disclose their genuine thoughts and feelings about you and risk damaging the relationship, or they may be afraid that if they give you right advice, you will be more successful and leave them behind.
  3. 3. Envy. In human relationships, envy plays an important role. People do not mind if strangers become billionaires or achieve success, but suffer from jealousy when those who are close to them or known to them achieve the same level of success. It is the monkey brain at work.

The best advice comes from yourself

Therefore, when it comes to your career or your life, it is better to listen to your friends, peers and colleagues with caution and discretion, and ignore them if their envy is palpable. Even if you have professional mentors in the same organization where you work, you cannot blindly trust them. Most of them wish you well as long as you do not seem to go beyond them or alter the dynamics of the relationship.

The same applies to any criticism which you may directly or indirectly hear from them. Their criticism against you will mostly be personal rather than factual and driven by personal considerations. You do not have to literally take all their negativity and feel undermined or belittled. Pay attention to what they say with an open mind, knowing that they may be acting out their primate behavior which is hidden in all, and it is natural for people to promote group cohesiveness and group think by pushing everyone into conformity and mediocrity.

Know how the brain works

The human brain has two parts, the lower brain or the reptilian brain, and the higher brain. The higher brain is responsible for all executive functions such as thinking, reasoning, speech, strategy, planning, forecasting, intelligence, etc., whereas the lower brain is the seat of all primitive instincts and emotions. In any situation, it is the lower brain which processes the information and looks for any threats or risks.

Hence, in all critical situations we experience emotions before we begin to think rationally. It is also why people cannot escape from the emotions of fear, envy, anger and lust, however educated and self-disciplined they may be. One should not feel ashamed or guilty for having such emotions. In a primitive world, a stronger opponent means an existential threat. Hence, one cannot help feeling negativity towards all forms of competition and against anyone who seems to undermine one�s own success.

What sets people apart is how they rationally think and act after they experience strong emotions, which cannot be suppressed. After all, your emotions are vital to your survival. They act like radars in your visual or perceptual filed. If you feel envious towards your close friends, colleagues and relations, it is perfectly normal and human. However, what is important is how you deal with such emotions afterwards, when your higher mind takes over the control. Life is largely about controlling the passions and weaknesses of your primitive brain without damaging its ability to protect you from external threats.

Jayaram V is the Founder President of and writer of several books and hundreds of articles on various religious, spiritual and self-help subjects.