How to deal with someone who keeps giving you unwanted advice – at work or at home

 In Address Problems, Blog, Couples, Effective Dialogue, Living Organizations

(Time to read: ~5 minutes)

“I hate it!” Jean fumed to her best friend. “Rob and I were having dinner and I was telling him about my day and how my new boss made me look totally incompetent in front of the client.

And then Rob starts giving me the third degree – ‘Well, did you do this?’ and ‘You should have done that’. 

What does he think I am – an idiot? He just doesn’t get it. It’s not that simple.

I wish he’d just shut up and listen. Like you do. Why can’t he be more like you?”

At Work

Karen stared blankly at her computer screen. She was trying to prepare her status report and she felt stuck.

She didn’t want to hide the new issue that had emerged with the Alpha Project. But every time she let her boss Pat know about a problem, Pat swooped in and tried to fix it. Phone calls and emails went flying.

Pat emerged smiling and feeling satisfied, but all that action usually just made things worse for Karen, adding to her overflowing workload.

But if she didn’t tell her boss about the issue, her colleague Julie probably would. In the worst possible way, at the worst possible time, making Karen look not only incompetent but also dishonest.

She’d tried to talk to her boss about this. And sometimes Pat had even agreed not to take action, and leave things to her to handle. But then the usual pattern would happen all over again.

What could she do?

The Three Phases of Dealing Effectively with Unwanted “Help”

Both Jean and Karen are up against a challenging reality of life:

There’s a natural desire in human beings to help someone who’s in distress.

So when Jean’s partner Rob, or Karen’s boss Pat hear about a problem, they want to help.

The problem is that the way they’re trying to help isn’t really helpful.

What Jean and Karen wanted was to channel that natural desire to help into more useful strategies. There are three key phases in doing this.

1) Before you share the problem

The key here is to let the other person know what you’re about to do, tell them what they could do that would be really helpful to you. And ask if they are willing to do that. For example:

  • “Rob, I’d like to tell you about something frustrating that happened at work today. And it would be so supportive to me if you’d just rub my back and tell me that it’s all going to be okay. Would you be willing to do that?”
  • “Pat, something challenging has emerged on the Alpha Project. And I know that, with your depth of experience, you could just handle it. But one of our shared goals from my last performance review was for me to think through problems myself and figure out how best to deal with them.
    So I’m wondering if I could share the problem and the ideas I’ve had about how to handle it, and if, instead of taking action yourself, you could ask me questions to help me improve my thinking so I can handle it myself. Is that something you’d be willing to do?”

2) After you’ve shared the problem – if they start giving you advice

One of the things that can really knock you off your game is if the other person agrees not to give you advice and then goes ahead and does it anyway. You can feel frozen in your tracks, finding it hard to believe it’s really happening…

The key in this moment is to take a deep breath (or three) and remember that the other person is just wanting to help.

Then thank them for their intention to support you, remind them of your request, and ask if they’re still willing to do that? If not, then get curious to understand what’s changed for them. For example:

  • “Rob, I really get how much you love me and want to support me. And right now, I’m not in a place to be able to hear any advice. So I’m wondering if you’d be willing to just rub my back and tell me that everything’s going to be all right?”
  • “Pat, would you be willing to put the phone down for a minute? I know that you could probably handle this situation with a few phone calls. And I think it will ultimately be best for you, me and the whole team if instead you would help me think through how I could handle the situation myself as much as possible. Would you be willing to do that?”

This is the most challenging phase to handle well, because it’s natural for our “fight, flight or freeze” reactions to kick in when people don’t stick to their agreements with us.

This is one of the key moments I help people to prepare for. We work on two things. The first is what you might say in such moments.

And the second is how you might manage your reactions – so how you say it is likely to restore connection rather than widen the gap between you.

3) After the Conversation

It’s so helpful to review what happened – to celebrate what worked, and to learn from what didn’t.

One of the toughest things to deal with at this point is if, in spite of everything, the other person gave you advice – and you just took it, and didn’t try to redirect them in the moment.

It can be easy to beat yourself up about this. Or to conclude that the other person will never change. 

Please be compassionate with yourself!

It’s one thing to know what you want to do, and it’s another to actually do it. It takes a lot of practice to be able to redirect someone “live” in the moment.

The good news is that all is not lost! You can go back and revisit the situation with the other person and learn together how to do things better in future.

What one useful thing are you taking away?

I’ve shared a bunch of different ideas in this article.

What one thing did I share – or did you think of – that you’d like to apply to an “unwanted advice” situation in your own life?

I’d love to hear about it if you’d like to share. You can send me an email here.

Would you like support?

If you’d like to “fast track” yourself or someone you know to learn these skills, let’s talk.

You can see a picture of my calendar and book yourself in here.

And in the meantime, feel free to check out the rest of this website to learn more about what I do and how and why I do it. You might start here.

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