thoughts on giving advice

I have, of late, found myself in and out of conflict with various people I consider friends.  This unnerves and frustrates me, but rather than go off on people, I generally keep my mouth shut.  I try to explain things as much as I can, but a lot of times I follow the adage Thumper so beautifully articulated in Bambi: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

People are prone to have all kinds of problems and meltdowns.  It’s part of being human, and it’s part of confronting hardship.  Life doesn’t work out the way we want it to, and there are several ways to cope with that.  I actually find amusement in seeing how people I deem as totally irrational work through that process, unless they draw me into it.  Then I’m just plain miserable.  I like rational processes. I dislike people flying in the face of evidence and insisting in knowing why life is treating them so poorly. On a simple level: if you keep hitting yourself in the hand with a hammer, I’m probably going to laugh.  If you hit my bag repeatedly with a hammer, I will likely get very aggravated but be unable to walk away because it’s my bag.

If the person smacking themselves in the hand with a hammer asks me advice, I’m perfectly willing to give it.  “Stop hitting yourself.”  Or, “put down the hammer.”  I am happy to be able to provide this insight.  I’m even happy to help inspect a little closer to understand the issue: “Ah, you keep missing the nail and instead impale your hand.”

If the person at this point still doesn’t do anything, then I’m likely to snicker or respond with silence and an icy glare.  I might go so far as to say “Here, balance this block of wood against the nail and hit that, it’s a bigger target.”

If the person throws a fit about how they have to do it the way they’re going, then I’m likely to not show much sympathy.

This is a very simplistic example, but the principle applies to a lot of my interactions with people. I’m not going to take the hammer away and do it for the person unless they ask me to, because I think people should figure things out. I like learning things, and I hate when people take things away from me to do because I just don’t know how.

My conflict is with people who constantly throw out streams of advice, or take things away and do it for other people. This is frustrating in the extreme because you are, to an extent, belittling the person who is trying to figure things out. You are taking away the learning opportunity, and the lack of exchange makes it more of a power assertion.

It’s great to offer advice, but think about how it is done.  Don’t take away from another person’s learning process.  The hardest part I’ve found is in estimating what the person in question is up against.  I have my view of the situation at hand, but i may very well be underestimating other factors that I don’t know about.  This means that I should avoid condescending language in giving advice.

Back to the person with the hammer: I may not know they have something in their eye, I may not know they’re crying, I may not know that they’re blind, I may not know that there is a giant magnet embedded in the wall pulling the hammer off course, I may not know that the hammer has a built in vibrator.  Assuming that I know all the variables effecting the situation is unfair and in many cases unlikely, especially in a situation where the problem itself is based on interpersonal interactions. My evidence is limited and based off of what I was actually present for, there are numerous other interactions that don’t happen in my presence, so things may not be as simple as they seem from my perspective.

I like fixing things, and I like giving advice. Many friends seem to share this trait, and it’s great because it means that a lot of people around me are supportive and try to keep each other in a happy somewhat healthy space. My annoyance comes from the proliferation of unrequested advice and far-reaching assumptions, along with the tone of the advice. My issue is with basic communication skills and knowledge (or lack thereof) of the creation of power dynamics.

I believe that unless people want to change, they are unlikely to, and they will only be somewhat offended or annoyed by unrequested advice.  If the situation is serious (I think about this when I try to increase efficiency at work), then a well phrased suggestion may do the trick.  Language choice is of the utmost importance.  A condescending statement followed by “Well, that’s the way it always works for me,” is still condescending and dismissive of the listener’s experience.

Sometimes I ask, and I’m pleasantly surprised.  Rather than poking fun at a person’s computer skills, I’d rather wait and use the computer, let them see me use a bunch of keyboard shortcuts, and then get them to ask “Hey, how did you do that?” It’s more productive, the other person is more engaged in learning, and it’s fun. I might just ask “Do you like using computer shortcuts?” I feel that i must know a person really well and know that they can take an ego bruising before I’d say “Man, you are so slow, why don’t you use ?” I think I have two friends on that list, and they seems to be able to take it. It doesn’t mean I’d do it in every area of conversation, it doesn’t mean I regularly disrespect them, I just like the opportunity to make snide comments once in a while. I’m too cynical not to.

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