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Accuracy vs. Helpfulness

March 9, 2011

Yesterday I got an inquiry about a Tarot reading and the potential client asked me, “How accurate are you?”  I’ve been asked this before, of course, but this time the client and I got into a long discussion on the topic of accuracy versus helpfulness, and that conversation inspired me to write a blog post about the topic.

First of all, the important question isn’t “How accurate are you?” but “How helpful are you?”  Let’s say I tell someone, “You have a black Labrador Retriever named Rex,” and they say, “Oooooooooooooh.  How could you have known that?” And they’re so impressed, but didn’t they already know that?  So is this helpful?  Yes, that sort of thing (which, from what I’ve seen of the world, is rather rare, but I do have something like that happen now and then) may give the person confidence in the reader. But still, in the end, it’s the helpfulness of the reading that matters.

Here’s an analogy, relevant to my prospective client’s specific questions, which were about if I was going to be able to tell him when a specific opportunity would arise in his life.  (Please keep in mind that this is only an analogy.)

Say you are sitting at a bus stop and you ask someone when the next bus will come by. And, of course, you want an accurate answer. Let’s say I tell you the next bus is at 2:35 pm.  The problem is this: is that accurate answer also helpful?  And how necessary is it to have such an accurate answer anyway?

There is an assumption in the question that there is only one bus coming along so if you miss it, you’re screwed.  But the Universe is not that nasty.  There is a bus every 20 minutes, and opportunity does not only knock once. But okay, now let’s say the bus does show up at 2:35 (more or less).  Do you know if it’s the right bus?  You didn’t ask about that.  How much is the fare and do you have that money in your pocket?  You didn’t ask about that and you didn’t check your pockets. And are you ready to get up and board the bus? You didn’t talk about that either. Yes, I know. Pretty much everyone can get on a bus, but this is an analogy. Not everyone is ready to take the opportunities that come their way.

So a helpful reading will work with you to make sure you know where you’re going and you’re prepared to take the opportunities that come your way.  But many people merely want to know when that opportunity is going to come, as if there will be just one.

Getting back to the client’s first question, I know there are some readers who will give an answer like “I’m 90% accurate” … I’m not sure how they’ve arrived at that number though.  (If any of you do give an accuracy estimate of that sort and can tell me how you get that number, I honestly would be interested to hear about it.)  In fact, I know a numerologist who always says “I am NEVER wrong.”  (She’s the only perfect person I know, I guess.)

What I say is that people find my readings to be helpful. They say things like:

My shrink has been telling me that for years. (I guess it helps to hear it from another source too.)

Thank you. Now I feel like I can deal with these problems. (This is probably my favorite response.)

That makes me feel better because it confirms what I suspected. (This is not the same as telling people factoids they already know.  Confirmation of suspicions can help people have more confidence or it can show them that they aren’t crazy for thinking this.)

But I would love to say something like, “I’m 97.3857% accurate … and as you can see, I’m extremely precise as well.”  But I won’t.  I know I’ll have to continue to discuss this whole accuracy versus helpfulness topic with people because it’s an important issue, and I know it’s not going away.  I’m 100% sure of that.



Perhaps I should also mention that asking someone to rate themselves is rather strange too.  You can ask what a person’s readings are like, but if you ask something like “How good are you?” you have to take the answer with a grain of salt.  It reminds me of an old joke:

I used to think that my brain was the most amazing organ of the body, but then I thought, Hey wait a minute.  Look who’s telling me that!


From → Readings

  1. Thanks for this great post, James! I’ve been asked this a few times, too, and felt pretty much stymied. Definitely not someone who feels I’m perfect, I’ve tried formulations like, “Well, I get quite good feedback.” From now on, though, I’m going to jump into the debate on helpfulness. Not everyone will like it, I suspect, but it feels so much more real!

  2. Great article 🙂

    I suspect the accuracy rating has to do with feedback regarding a reading. If 9 out of 10 people give you feedback that says you were accurate or helped them in some way, then you have 90% accuracy.

  3. chergreen permalink

    James, great topic.

    I’ve never been asked this, and I’ve never asked it of another reader. I believe the question though is more an attempt to discover whether you are helpful or not. At least, if I was to ask it, that is what I would want to know.

    For instance, do your predictions turn out to be accurate? do you accurately connect with your clients? do you successfully receive insight from the cards?

    I also believe that the percentages do come from the feedback provided. If you’ve never had negative feedback, I guess you would be 100% accurate, but I doubt if many have never recieved some type of negative feedback.

    I recently had a reading done where the reader gave very direct information. A time table of an occurance that would come to me. She described the person who would offer the opportunity and the form the invitation would take. She encouraged me to put more effort into a particular area of my writing, my blog.

    Was she accurate? I won’t know until June. Was it helpful? It was to a point. I know now that my blog is an important part of my writing career.

    But, on the other hand, if she’s not accurate, this direction may actually be hurtful.

    I guess what I’m getting at is the person asking this question is probably trying to ask rather you are a fraud or not, without sounding cruel.

    Thanks for the topic.

    • Hi Cher,
      Thank you for your thoughtful feedback.
      Re: “I believe the question though is more an attempt to discover whether you are helpful or not.” One would hope so, but in the conversation I mentioned, the potential client kept discounting my points about “helpfulness” and insisted on knowing about “accuracy”. There is also the point that the question “do your predictions turn out to be accurate?” assumes that the future is etched in stone, and I don’t think it is.
      As for percentages coming from the feedback, which I agree is probably what people are using — this is rather illusory. This is what’s called a “convenience sample.” If your prediction turns out to be right, that client will come back and say, “Wow, you were right,” and they’ll want another reading. If it’s wrong, they probably won’t come back and give you any feedback.
      Finally, the point I was trying to make is that the way I work with a reading (and I understand that everyone has their own way) is that I don’t give set-in-stone predictions; I work with the querent to examine what’s going on so that s/he can create the future they want. As I often say, “I’m a fortune helper, not a fortune teller,” which is why “accuracy” isn’t a relevant question but “helpfulness” is. Although I realize that for readings that involve set-in-stone predictions, accuracy and helpfulness are intertwined.

  4. Susan permalink

    Great post as usual, James. I agree that they are asking if you are a fraud or not, and to me, the question is a bit rude. I think that people who ask that question are looking for a “fortune-teller” and fear the boogie man. I would prefer to not offer my help to this type of person, but I understand this type probably has good intentions and is seeking some guidance. I might just reply, “I have no idea.” in my inimitable, honest, smart-ass Sagittarian way. 😉 But that’s just little old me…

    • Yes, I ultimately suggested to this person that it seems he wants a different kind of reading than I do. The whole conversation was a lot more complex than this, but that’s the gist of it.

  5. “I’m 97.3857% accurate … and as you can see, I’m extremely precise as well.”

    Thanks for the chuckle, James! 🙂

    My point of view of tarot reading is akin to fine are — it is in the eye of the beholder. I feel if a person is open to what the cards show, it will trigger something in their unconscious. Perhaps even in their conscious.

    How accurate is this? I don’t know. How accurate is dream interpretation? It really depends upon the individual situation.

    How useful is this? Again, it depends. Advice ignored isn’t (often) useful. But I have certainly seen readings that highlight rather specific set of circumstances, and they rather frequently do seem to work out that way. Both in cases when the advice is carefully considered and when ignored.

    Which leads to another point. The cards are indicators, not dictators. I see the spread as a snap shot of one’s current trajectory. So emphasize that which you wish to see develop, and work to adjust the course of events you wish to see work out in another way.

    So it all boils down to the person. What they do or choose not to do. As in all other aspects of life. A tarot reading is an information gathering tool. But how we use this information, or choose not to, is entirely up to us. And this is as it should be, I think.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post!

    Best wishes,
    Erik Weaver

    • “The cards are indicators, not dictators”
      Nice quote. Mind if I use it?

      • Hi James,

        Yes, you may, thanks for asking. As it rolled out from under my fingertips I kinda liked that one too! 😉 heheh…. Guess I need to write a book now that I have at least one nice chapter title! 🙂 😛


  6. LOL, James, this is so great!
    And the “Bus” analogy is just perfect…!

    I get that “How Good Are You?” question SO often, since part of my work is done in a public venue where guests are usually intoxicated and rude, and I always answer, smiling and laughing: “Oh, I’m AWFUL, just TERRIBLE. You really don’t want a reading from me.” (They don’t expect that answer, they expect me to become defensive or try to “sell” them my services…and then they realize that I have been a fixture at a very famous venue for five years, and I have an Assistant standing nearby to manage the long list of waiting clients that evening…)
    They are then usually pushed out of the way by a breathless former client who will be wheezing on about how they Have To Get Another Reading Right Now Because Everything I Told Them Last Week Came True!
    Then, naturally, the person asking the rude question will start scrambling to get on the list…it’s so funny!

    When I’m not being arrogant, bitchy and sarcastic like that, I will usually say that anyone who seriously reads professionally will be around 85 to 95 percent accurate, (and I don’t remember where I read that piece of information, I promise I didn’t just make it up!) and those who are NOT get weeded out pretty quickly…so, I tell people to check a Reader’s reviews/testimonials, or go see someone personally recommended. (And I make it clear that I don’t care if the Reader they see is ME or not…)

    Like any sort of consultant, it’s all about RESULTS for the client.
    I also have NO idea how you would actually come up with that percentage, and it really is irrelevant.

    You are awesome!
    Valentina Burton
    Dallas, Texas

    • Thanks Valentina!
      Loved your story about reading in a public venue, by the way.
      “Like any sort of consultant, it’s all about RESULTS for the client.” — Exactly.

  7. I think this is an important discussion, and for me reading tarot is where I try to help the client look where they had not thought to look for their solution. Yesterday my client left saying to me “thank I now know what I need to do” to me that makes the reading of cards worth while.

  8. Thank you James…
    Thought provoking article….. just so funny though I have just finished with a client who asked that exact same question…. I replied……”I have the found the readings I have given to be very helpul to the client in empowering them on their personal journey. The way I read the cards is to discuss very much about what issues are happening within your life and how and what you can do to assist you moving forward on your journey”
    Afterwards I was told….. The reading was helpful in the information I gave her…….

    So a great result I think ….lol………..


  9. Hi James,

    can a reader read something completely incorrectly or would the ‘guides’/angels not be honest for some reason?

    i asked two very well considered readers/intuitive’s if i will have another child – they both said yes.
    i asked if i will experience anymore miscarriages – they both said no.
    why then, did i just have another miscarriage?
    does this mean our little angel may or may not return to us in our lifetime?
    does this mean that any and all information given cannot be trusted/relied upon?

    • Hi Nicole,
      First of all, let me extend my condolences. May you find peace and healing at this time.

      Now … This is a great question. I really doubt that someone’s guides would be dishonest. We people, on the other hand, are quite fallible and can misinterpret messages from the divine as easily as we misinterpret things other people say. Perhaps also the readers you went to have a deep seated desire to give good news, which can affect their ability to see bad news. (I don’t know, of course, since I don’t know these readers, but it’s a possibility to consider.)
      In any case, though, this is why I don’t do readings that come from a basis of “the future is set in stone.” It’s not. I think we Tarot readers should help the client be prepared for the future, but that’s more a matter of becoming wiser, better, or stronger people (which is possible) rather than telling them about an immutable future (which is not possible).
      I also don’t think it’s a good idea to do medical readings (see item 4 on my ethics page:, so I would never do a reading to answer the question, “Will I have a miscarriage?” It’s rather unethical, and (more to the point here) I just don’t think it works that way, which is why I always say “I’m a fortune helper, not a fortune teller.”

      Bright Blessings,

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