If You Want My Advice… Too Bad!

I have a very fragile ego.  I know it and I freely admit it.

I get my feelings hurt easily, and although I teach “Dealing with Difficult People” and “Confrontation Skills,” I prefer not to do either if I don’t have to.

Recently, someone gave me some unsolicited advice and it really bothered me.

I was delivering my “Amazing Assistant” program to a client and everything was flowing smoothly. The participants were having a really good time and I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I knew that my client, the firm’s training co-ordinator, would be very happy with the results of the workshop.

At lunch I planned to sit with a group of participants to enjoy the social part of the day. When I went to see if the training co-ordinator would like to join us, I was greeted with: “I have some feedback to give you about your training program. I see some ways you can make it better.”

Since I hadn’t asked for the advice, it threw me for a loop. Unfortunately, I took it the wrong way and proceeded to second-guess myself the entire afternoon.

While I was processing how I felt about my client’s unsolicited advice, I realized that I am an advice-giver by trade and that I had probably done the same thing to others in the past: annoyed them with unasked-for suggestions.

I wondered how many other people do the same thing. We may be simply trying to make a task easier for someone or to show them a different way to do something.  But if we weren’t asked for advice, why do we assume the other person will be open to receiving it?

When you say to someone (your children, for instance), “Here, let me help you with that, “are you giving advice that hasn’t been asked for?

The next time you question someone (“Why did you do it that way?” or “That seems like a difficult way to…” or “That’s not the way we do it here,”) you run the risk that your advice will not be received positively. 

Offering unsolicited advice can set up barriers to good working relationships with people. It can also have a cumulative effect, fostering a negative perception of you over time.

I know that the training co-ordinator had my best interests at heart. I know she wasn’t telling me that I wasn’t doing a good job. That didn’t stop me from resenting her unasked-for advice.

It’s easy to come across as a know-it-all and be one of those difficult people I’ve been teaching everyone how to deal with. It’s easy to come across as a busybody, with nothing better to do than tell others what they do wrong. It’s very easy to send the wrong message, even with the best of intentions.

For the next 30 days, join me in an experiment. I’m going to try not offering any unsolicited advice to anyone. I’m going to simply keep quiet. If someone wants my advice they will ask for it; and in the meantime I won’t assume they want it.

After the 30 days of “no advice” are over, I’m going to use this handy checklist before offering up advice in the future:

  1.  Is the other person looking for advice? Is she open to it and willing to hear it?
  2. Are my comments kind? Or is my intention to point out that the person is doing something wrong? What is my intent?
  3. Will the other person feel good about receiving my advice? Does it make me look like I know better than they do? Is this about me?
  4. Is this the right time to give the advice?

 Based on the answers to these questions, I may decide to keep the advice to myself  after all… at least until someone asks for it.

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