The Art of Dealing with the &#@# Unsolicited Advice
Don’t you eff’in love it?
It usually starts by “ I am not sure I should be telling you this …” (then, don’t…, by all means, don’t)…… and then the “… but …”
And here comes again, the dreaded unsolicited advice.
Out of nowhere
I am caught off-guard – never a nice feeling-, I don’t know what to do or what to say, I am definitely extremely annoyed.
It never fails, I then go through stages, ranging from me being annoyed, to a full-blown inner rage.
Why is it so difficult to take that kind of remarks?
After all, if someone offered me an unsolicited positive feedback, such as “I really love what you do, your website, your clothes” and so on, I am taken by surprise, sure!, and I am loving it.
The critique, however, feels like a personal attack. Even when it pertains to something as neutral as the choice of a picture for an Instagram post. I chose the picture, you criticize the picture, you hate me. Simple as that, is it not?.
I wish it were sometimes, simple. It would be an excellent excuse to ignore the haters and stay within my inner circle of unconditional fans. Yet, somehow, hiding and excluding doesn’t feel quite right.
Is there a way to turn around these remarks and just see them as someone’s way of communicating?.
Just a feedback, an outside opinion, nothing more.
If we manage to stay neutral in these situations, wouldn’t that give us more power when deciding whether we want to engage or not?. Can we do that, in our over-exposed 21stcentury?.
The way we do the things we do
We clearly don’t have the same knee-jerk reactions when we are the ones asking for feedback or paying for advice. Because we are in a very different place. We are in a place of wanting it, asking for it and are open to receive it.
Unsolicited advice, on the other hand, has this knack of almost always coming at the worst time ever.
And in addition, for me, it has always been quite disruptive. I freeze, I get annoyed, I get scared and then enraged. I go into the loop of my way of dealing with any stress. The four stages of my own personally crafted inferno.
So my first advice for you for when this happens: observe your own pattern. Notice which stage(s) you go through and in which order.
Stage of “I freeze”
We freeze because we are taken by surprise. Our jaw is dropping, our eyes widening. We are taking in all the new and unexpected information from all sources, we are in a state of mini shock.
For me, it manifests as being annoyed. Why on earth would someone do or say this?. My vision is blurred. I am in a state of confusion. I cannot read or take in clearly the comments. My head and my heart are racing.
Stage of “I flight”
Sensory overload! Our brain needs a break. We need to find an escape from that painful situation. It could also be a time to collect our breath and our thoughts, before taking action.
This is where I close the Facebook app and stop everything; or I end the discussion and leave the room on the spot.
Stage of “I fight”
We fight the comments. These feel like entrapment, an accusation, and a personal attack. We feel the need to defend our honor. So we fight. Through blame, and turning the argument around and against the person.
My go-to reaction at that stage is “who do you think you are?”. “How dare you telling me what to do/think/be”.
Stage of “I appease”
When somehow we rediscover we are adults and should behave as such.
And perhaps now we realize that we said things that cannot be unsaid nor unheard by the other person (oops..). We are genuinely sorry for it.
So we find excuses or explanations as to why we behaved like an unruly kid.
And all of a sudden, we become the guilty party of this whole comedy.
Feel the pain of reacting versus the grace of responding?
Good thing we live and learn, and here come some ideas to get more graceful.
How to deal with the unexpected and undesired feedback like an adult, a lady, and a gentleman
How to get better at keeping the poker face and buying oneself time to think?
Take a break
Remove yourself mentally or physically from the situation. You can use the stage of flight for that. And it can be as short and easy as taking a deep breath.
Allow yourself to collect your nerves and assuage your desire to retaliate.
This is when you can start strategizing on how to respond to the situation.
If the person is just one of those who justify their existence and value-add on earth by being critical, then you know what to do…
If you feel there is something that got you hooked and you cannot move on, despite all these times when you repeated to yourself that you shouldn’t care what people think of you, then, my friend, this is a good time to take another pause and look more closely at what’s itching.
What’s in it for you?
Another one that can be done in the spur of the moment. Is this a valid or valuable feedback for you? Can you use the advice in order to make things better?
If really it is true that what people think of you is none of your business, however, what they think of your business and how you are conducting it, actually is, your business, to a certain extent.
A customer’s feedback, a spouse’s or a partner’s, an associate’s at work, can avoid many costly mistakes and misunderstandings down the road. The key here is to identify where the remarks are coming from and if they are really valid for you. Then you can take action.
No conflict avoidance please
This part is important. Because quite often we either shrug the discomfort off or we lash out at the delivering person.
If you feel that they are trespassing and getting involved in something that is not theirs, then by all means, tell them to mind their own business. Your (adult) reaction to their unsolicited advice can be a teachable moment for them, with the hope that they will understand the “back off” part of it.
Now if you are like me, at times emotionally unavailable and/or just too emotional to have a discussion with, you’ll notice that people tend to tiptoe around you when they have something, let’s say, uncomfortable, to say to you.
That’s when the “I have something to say” actually gets blurted out without any advance warning.
How willing are we, to listen to what others have to say? Clear and open communication is the foundation to any healthy relationships.
How long have you been avoiding this discussion? Have you been listening to what your partner, friend or colleagues have been trying to tell you?.
Perhaps there is something in your behavior that has been harming them. Or perhaps it has been harming you?
Now may be the perfect time to get on with ‘the talk’ and start from a cleaner slate.
Know thyself i.e. what pushes your buttons (and why)
That’s an easy and obvious one. And it can (and should) be done after the facts.
If you feel shaken or destabilized by a remark, then there is something in it for you.
Often times, there is a part of us that doesn’t feel satisfied with what we did or said. And the feedback is coming to highlight that shortcoming.
Only the truth hurts, right?
Is the case for you? Inquire and see if you can get to the bottom of it. Are you really dissatisfied with the quality of your work? Or is it another form of misplaced perfectionism? Could you have done more? If so, what?.
At other times, the attack feels closer to home than just a matter of unsatisfactory research. And yes, we take it personally.
If it is our job, our life, our body or even a post we chose to publish, then it is personal.
Are you feeling questioned in your integrity? Or in your right to have an opinion and to voice it?
Identify what is bothering you precisely. The person? The way the text is written? Or what they are criticizing?
If it’s the person, What are they bringing up in you?. An old common story? your own story?. It could be the tone they are using, the way they are phrasing their opinion.
Perhaps this is a good time to also examine those issues of self-confidence and standing up for yourself.
Everything is a clue here to help you get closer to what is bothering you in what could be a simple observation.
Now that you have a better idea on what’s going on, here is a little something to help with the issue.
Learn the art of adult communication
And it’s along the lines of not taking anything personally. Except that this time, you choose not to, it’s not someone else patronizing you into it.
Of the subject of patronizing, I encourage friends and clients to take a look at the basics of Transactional Analysis, founded by Eric Berne.
Premises are: each time we enter into a transaction (i.e. a communication with someone), we have the choice of 3 states of being in that communication: Parent, Adult or Child.
When you decide to speak with someone as a parent, you are assigning them the role of the child (patronizing, anyone?) and you become the brat when you whine and complain without bringing a resolution.
The solution: whenever possible, bring the level of a conversation to “adult to adult”. No more assigning the blame of “every time, you do this and that”, but taking responsibility for your own feelings and emotions and reactions with a “I feel this and that, I don’t feel comfortable…).
Adults can agree to disagree. Ladies and Gentlemen don’t burn bridges unless there is a clear integrity issue for them.
And they don’t give up on what’s important for them. They don’t give anybody any right on their freedom to speak or to create or to be.
And finally, this is a reminder to myself: if you don’t want to receive, don’t give (when not asked).
Walking my talk first
After all, in the past, I never had any issue telling others what I thought of their work and offer feedback, solicited or not.
As I am getting more mature now (right..), and thanks to several slaps on my face, i.e. being asked to mind my own business, I learned the power of not offering my opinion or help, unless asked.
It’s pretty simple; did that person ask for my opinion? “yes”, great, I’d love to help and offer my vision, “no” then I move on.
Of course, there will be times when I cannot help myself, when I see something wrong and that can be harmful to a person or to me.
Or when I am with people that I know well enough, when I see them engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors.
But it’s always coming from a place of caring.
What I am learning as well is to detach myself from what the person will do with that advice.
It took me some mental training to accept that once I did my duty, i.e. speaking up, my work is done. It’s up to them to do what they want with it. I am not here to save anyone, especially not from themselves.
And one last word before I hit the end, remember that there is a time, a place and a state of mind, when it comes to giving an opinion. Telling your spouse that they have put on weight might not be the best conversation starter at the end of a long day. Serenity at work starts at home ….
Now your turn:
What does it say about you when someone criticizes you? Which parts of you get angry? Sad? Scared?.
You cannot control other people’s behavior but you can yours. What can you do today to accept criticism and be at peace with yourself?
A personal favorite: Eric Berne and Transactional Analysis
By far the best article I had read on the subject. Each point is worth looking into: How to Deal with Criticism Well: 25 Reasons to Embrace It
And finally, if you are in the mood, pushing the envelope: Delighting In Criticism