I wish I had stuck with my idea of giving up chocolate for Lent; it would be a lot less challenging than my decision to give up giving advice. While I’m not Catholic, I have always given up something for the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Usually I pick simple bad habits like swearing, or unhealthy addictions like chocolate. However, this year I focused on a personality trait that had gotten me into a bit of trouble lately.
A few days before Ash Wednesday, my partner Tonya and I were discussing a potential opportunity for her to expand her business. She expressed a concern about finding additional employees and I started to give her suggestions on how she could attract the right people. She was not appreciative. Thing was, Tonya just wanted to vent. She hadn’t asked me for advice on what to do; she had some ideas for that already. All she wanted was a forum to express her fears and her concerns. She explained that, rather than being helpful, my suggestions made her feel like I didn’t trust her judgment. I heard her frustration. But I wasn’t suggesting these things because I didn’t believe in her. I was doing it because I cared and wanted to help. So, I didn’t stop and she got up and walked away. Things then got even more heated when I continued to impart my wisdom when she returned. It was clear we did not see my advice giving the same way.
This was not the first time Tonya had pointed out that I do this. Over the years, she has mentioned it more times than should have been necessary. Giving it up for six weeks seemed like a good opportunity for me to take a step back and look at my behavior a bit more objectively and possibly bring some peace to the household. I didn’t realize how hard and humbling that commitment would be. I knew I gave Tonya unsolicited advice, but until I tried to stop, I didn’t realize how much I actually gave it to a lot of other people. And how negative it really can be.
Last weekend I broke my pledge and almost broke a friend’s spirit. Sarah was at the house talking about how she was frustrated with the growth of her career. It was hard for her to build a new clientele since she had moved but she was optimistic and had some ideas. Forgetting to just encourage her and ask about her plans, I jumped in and gave her a laundry list of things she could do; mailings, promotions, advertising. I pontificated, pronounced and proffered my opinion for an hour. She thanked me but left appearing discouraged and down trodden. When I asked her about it later, Sarah told me that my recommendations didn’t leave her any room to voice and develop her own thoughts or plans – ones she had been excited about and felt fit her personality better.
Then I watched someone else do it. A few days ago Tonya and I were out to dinner with my Mom and stepfather. Tonya’s business opportunity came up. Being aware of the need to tailor my compulsion, I was extremely sensitive when my parents began to give Tonya their own unsolicited advice. Rather than just listening and asking questions, they jumped in with their opinions on the right and wrong way for her to move forward. It was a real wakeup call. My parents were doing exactly what I do. I knew it was coming from a place of love and concern, but the unasked for advice wasn’t helping; it did feel like they doubted her abilities. It unintentionally put Tonya on the defensive. I couldn’t pretend I didn’t see it. Their advice had the opposite effect of what they meant it to do.
So I have decided to try to give up giving unsolicited advice permanently. It’s definitely not going to be easy, I am having withdrawals already. However, I take comfort in knowing that I can still give advice to those that ask for it. Anyone??