Parents love giving advice to their grown kids, at least this parent does. Advice, though, is not always welcomed or well-received. My husband is always reminding me, “They’re not asking.” And he’s right. Sometimes our kids don’t ask because they’ve already made up their minds and don’t want to change them; sometimes it’s because they want to figure things out for themselves; sometimes they already know what I’m going to say because I’ve said it one hundred times before and they don’t need to hear it again. Sometimes they’re not asking because they’re not yet ready to hear advice – they’re still running ideas through their own filtering processes and it’s too soon to hear what their mom (or anyone else) thinks.
My husband’s good reminder doesn’t just apply to children, though. It can apply to our aging parents or our work colleagues or our best friends. And for artists and entrepreneurs, this can be especially true when we’re in the early stages of creating something new. It’s important to protect our fledgling ideas as they try to take hold, so advice is not always welcome in the early stages.
What people do want, even if they’re not asking, is for you to show interest in the work they do, provide support and encouragement, and offer to give advice or feedback if/when they decide that might be helpful.
I confess I sometimes can’t help myself, especially if I’m sure my advice could save someone time, treasure, or trouble. In that case, I might send an e-mail that starts with the line: “Warning: Unsolicited Advice Enclosed, Feel Free to Delete.” I’m guessing most people can’t resist at least skimming the e-mail (I know I wouldn’t be able to), so I tack on a line at the bottom that says they don’t have to respond if they don’t want to. I hope that at least allows them the freedom to dismiss my advice without worrying about hurting my feelings. I’ve heard from friends who’ve sometimes skimmed and shelved my advice (and not responded) only to respond months later when the advice was finally welcome or started to make sense.
For my own part, I’ve learned to advocate for myself more directly and much sooner than I used to when it comes to receiving advice I never asked for. I typically thank people for their suggestions and say I’m still in brainstorming mode and will get back to them if I’d like to talk further. I no longer feel the need to explain in detail why I will or will not be taking their advice. Typically, I recognize most people sincerely want to help, and I appreciate that!
For the strangers who write to tell me how I could be doing something better, I no longer respond if their comments are rude or abrasive. If their comments are well-intended, I reply with a simple note to let them know I appreciate their interest and the time it took to write. If their comment is truly helpful, I respond in more detail. The point is, dismissing my lifelong quest to be the “nice girl,” I no longer feel obligated to go overboard in any of my communications.
So, the next time someone is sharing an idea or struggle with you, pause before responding and ask yourself, “Are they asking for my help or not?”
By Teresa R. Funke
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