by Wendy Keller, author, speaker
I just got off the phone with a well-meaning, kind-hearted older woman who truly believes she knows what’s best for me in every situation. She was adamant in her advice, as adamant as I am about not taking it. All my life, I’ve called this woman “Mom.” I wasted a half hour telling my mother why I can’t/won’t/don’t want to do what she insists is right for me. She thinks I’m being stubborn. I think she’s being pushy.
I notice, however, that I always think I know what’s best for my almost-20-yr-old daughter. Several of my friends get my unsolicited advice on occasion. In my regular work as a literary agent, I am forced to give VERY unwelcome advice to authors whose bad book ideas will never get published successfully. In summary, I’m as guilty as my own dear mom.
We all hate it when people force their opinions on us. Why? Because we are all required to learn our own lessons at precisely the speed we are capable of learning them – even if someone who has already passed that lesson wants to illuminate it for us. I am reminded of the sales adage:
A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.
Especially when we are are going through challenges, people who care will offer us advice – and some want to cram it down our throats. While talking to my mom, I remembered the THREE STEPS FOR COPING WITH UNSOLICITED ADVICE. I used them and I diffused the situation. I realize I’m not the only one who entangles with unsolicited advice and the arguments that ensue. You may also get benefit from this strategy.
1. Silently ask yourself WHY the person is shoving their opinion in your face. In my mom’s case, it’s because she really wants to help me. In a boss’ case, perhaps s/he wants to keep the business running smoothly so everyone HAS a job next month. In a friend’s case, it may be that they want to spare you the pain they experienced in a similar situation. The minute you can put yourself into someone else’s shoes, the situation automatically calms down.
2. Listen to their position. It’s possible that maybe 1% of the advice is rather good. You don’t have to publicly acknowledge it, but just listen for it. This person probably isn’t a complete idiot. Take a breath, realize they’re coming from what to them seems a reasonable perspective and open your mind for a split second by asking, “Can I learn something from this?” Even if it’s just how the other side thinks.
3. Be clear in your response. Don’t agree to do something that you know you won’t. That’s being chicken and it’s out of integrity – and it lays the table for another fight soon. Say, “I appreciate hearing your perspective. Let me think that over.” Insecure people will try to get you to immediately agree with them, but just calmly repeat your statement. It is polite, it acknowledges that you heard it and it underscores that you are capable of making your own decisions rationally and maturely. Bonus points if you can also summarize in a sentence or two what the person wants you to do or not do. As a random example, “I understand that you want me to wear a seat belt when I drive, because you believe I will be safer that way and you care about my safety.” (P.S. – It’s my opinion that you SHOULD always wear a seat belt, FYI!)
Why -> Listen -> Clear
These three steps can diffuse any argument when you apply them calmly, assertively and consistently. Write them down on a Post-It pad and next time you’re about to lock heads with someone, go through these steps and see if it doesn’t make the situation much easier to manage.
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