Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Wednesday Factoid: Petty Pet Peeve

Today's Wednesday Factoid: What is a petty pet peeve of yours?

Unsolicited advice, I guess.

I dunno if that's petty enough. I guess so.

I think I just hate the entire dynamic surrounding unsolicited advice, too. Not only do people think complaints, rants, or discussions are an invitation to dump advice, but then if I don't want the advice and I (gently) ask people not to offer it, I'm treated to condescending clucking about how ungrateful I am because that person is just trying to help.

Quit telling me what to do
One good way to feel out whether someone would like the advice you want to give is to just ask!

"Oh hey, I heard you're frustrated about X--can I tell you about something that worked for me when I had the same problem?"

"I saw your post about looking for a job--would you like any help with your resume?"

"This tweet reminds me of a similar situation my friend went through--would you like a link to some perspectives/advice?"

I don't mind that kind of response at all. After all, if the person involved genuinely wants to help me and is doing so in the spirit of helpfulness and concern, they will also be understanding if I'm not in a good place to receive advice or if their perspective is unlikely to be helpful for me because of specifics I haven't disclosed. If it is about helping me, how they feel about opportunities to offer advice should not be the focus. 

But there are people out there who just want the experience of telling other people what to do. And people out there who believe anyone who talks about a problem automatically wants help solving it. And people out there whose privileged position in the world allows them opportunities that aren't available to some of the rest of us, but still talk to us like what works for them will work for us.

THOSE are the people who immediately get salty if you reject, ignore, or request they withhold their advice. I'm just trying to help notwithstanding, if I didn't ask for your perspective, your advice, or your thoughts on it and you're about to say something prescriptive, you're probably not helping. Especially since so much of the unsolicited advice I've received in recent years starts with the phrase "Well why didn't you just . . . ?" Which subtly blames me for my situation and suggests I should have known better than to have the problem in the first place. Telling me my problems are my own fault isn't constructive unless I'm asking you to help me figure out how to avoid getting in the situation again.

It's true that sometimes people who need advice or would be better off following certain advice are not receptive to it. I understand that. I also don't think it's appropriate to assume when it's one of those times, or to disrespect people's autonomy, or to assume your opinion is relevant. I can tell you from experience that most of the unsolicited advice I've received has either been unnecessary because I already knew how to handle the problem OR has been unusable because the person misunderstood/miscalculated the situation. People who wander into your spaces and tell you what to do rarely feel they need to ask questions, because it isn't really about understanding your situation.  

They don't want to truly understand the problem. They just want to be the one to say they solved it.

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