Standing at my volunteer station, I was ambushed from behind by a fellow volunteer. I had never met nor seen this woman previously but she decided to critique the way in which I was doing my unpaid job…and not in a positive way. I must say, I didn’t respond in a particularly gracious manner to her feedback. She became even more critical before I stopped responding and she walked away.
This was a perfect example of how not to give unsolicited advice AND how not to respond to unsolicited advice. As we go through our daily routines, endless opportunities present themselves to give others advice or feedback. At the gym we observe people who could hurt themselves; on the street we see drivers who could use some tips; at work we know better ways for coworkers to process information and communicate with others. But the simple truth is that most of us loathe unsolicited advice.
Timing is Key
Even supervisors or team leaders, who are presumably charged with giving feedback, know that timing is crucial. Blindsiding someone with negative comments is rarely well received. In addition, the savvy supervisor knows how important phrasing is. Focusing on what an employee is lacking, rather than what the person is doing well starts the conversation off on the wrong foot.
The Trusted Adviser
For those of us who aren’t paid to give others advice or feedback, things get even trickier. A wise friend taught me a technique I sometimes remember to use. When someone is sharing a problem she is having, I may ask “do you want me to just listen or would you like feedback?”
Trust is an important ingredient in giving advice and having confidence it will be received well. Obviously total strangers, however well intentioned, lack this advantage.
A Skilled Approach
Assuming my aforementioned fellow volunteer is just bursting at the seams with good intentions to help me become a stellar volunteer, how could she have approached me with better results? For one, she could have said something like: “I really like your enthusiasm for your job. I have a suggestion for how you can be even more effective. Would you like to hear it?” I probably would have said “yes” (even if wanted to say “no”); I would have had more time to prepare for a potential jolt to my ego.
Given that most advice-givers are unskilled, how can we, unsuspecting victims, respond in a more skilled way? Using my encounter with the overzealous volunteer who sniped at me, I could’ve said: “I appreciate your intention to be helpful. Thank you.” The key here is deep breathing and lots of practice. When the sniper appears, the adrenaline rush doesn’t make for clear-headed thinking; the monkey brain takes over…fight or flee.
Maybe the next time I’ll be ready for the stranger who wants to give me unsolicited advice. In the meantime, I can make sure I’m not ambushing any of my fellow ditch diggers just trying to do their jobs.