“When we put ourselves out there, we can become targets of another person’s thoughtless ego-trip moments.”

We’re six months into Covid-19-restricted life and I’m seeing an interesting uptick in rotten behavior. (No, I won’t be covering politics today). Actually, I’ve noticed A LOT of unsolicited advice being offered. Perhaps it’s a new habit resulting from boredom and isolation. Maybe the advice slingers believe that since they are online it’s fine to be insulting. Who knows? What is true is that senders of patronizing suggestions must not realize their comments are not welcome.

For today’s blog, I’ll use myself as an example as someone who has received some amusing unsolicited advice from a “well-meaning” reader. Of course, you can decide for yourself after reading below if you agree or not.

I’ll set the stage for you:

I write several regular columns for national magazines each month. Before publication, all are edited by professionals in the field. This reader is referencing a column about conflict resolution tips. Because I was a) talking about a group and b) because it is accepted today (including by the Associated Press Style Book and the American Copy Editors Society) that we use a version of “they”’ when we do not know the gender of the people in question. I had used the word “their” in the sentence below.

The reader took issue with it.

I did notice a flaw which I wanted to bring to your attention. Please keep in mind now that I am doing all of this in a very polite and tactful manner…”
 
I think what you really meant to say was, “During the discussion, ask each party to explain “his” position and role in the conflict”. “His” is the needed singular and possesive pronoun and aptly covers for persons of either sex.
 
And as I previously stated, I am hoping you will see the gravity of your error and realize that I am doing this for the soul purpose that you can and will shine even more brightly as a journalist. Please keep in mind too that I am not an English teacher or an English major. I don’t even have a college degree.

That’s not all the reader wanted me to know, but I abbreviated the letter to save you from more tedium–not to mention more spelling errors (you may have caught a couple above), dropped prepositions at the end of sentences, and punctuation problems. The advice giver and I agree on one thing—that he is evidently not an English teacher (or currently majoring in English, as he oddly mentions, as well).

He is also sexist and patronizing.

On a side note, my husband thought it was hilarious that a man who has never met me endeavored to do something he is personally afraid to do: tell me “what I meant to say.”

When we put ourselves out there, we can become targets of another person’s thoughtless ego-trip moments. We can ignore these slights (usually a good idea) or we can put them to good use, as I am trying to do here.

Ignoring unsolicited advice doesn’t mean you are above being corrected; I certainly am not. Actually, writing around the use of “their” is preferred, according to the rules in the Associated Press Style Book. My editor or I could have opted for that, or we could have used the awkward “his or her,” which has largely fallen out of favor because of the aforementioned reason that it sounds too formal and clunky.

I’m a writer not an editor and I know it. There are likely flaws in this blog and yet I’m still comfortable putting it out for your reading enjoyment. That’s what thought leaders do. So, in your arena, keep your material coming and don’t care too much about how naysayers want to “help.”

Don’t Avoid Offering Advice When Necessary

As leaders of your organization, you do, however, have to advise others–many times with good reason.

Productive advice may include:

  • feedback and discussion that is necessary for improvement or that advances a project among work colleagues,
  • specific, corrective actions that a supervisor may expect of an errant employee,
  • suggested areas for improvement in a performance review or in another professional session, such as with an executive coach, or
  • advice and ideas shared from a mentor or from someone when the recipient requested the feedback.

Unsolicited Advice Isn’t For You

You see, advice is important.

Unsolicited advice makes us squeamish when we receive it. Why? Because it’s truly for the sender.

In an article in Psychology Today, author Seth Meyers writes that unsolicited advice givers are frequently long on judgement and short on self-awareness.

“Not only are they not aware of others’ thoughts and feelings, but they also lack self-awareness. These individuals do not see how their actions are often unwarranted or even uncalled for, and they never stop to reflect on their own motivations for giving unsolicited advice in the first place.”

Apparently.  

We’ve all heard the phrase “pick your battles.” As you consider when to provide your perspective to others and offer to correct their behavior, use good judgement and get serious about your intentions. Don’t waste your good ideas on someone who doesn’t want them. More importantly, don’t tarnish your reputation or damage a relationship with unsolicited advice.