By Katie East
Everyone knows that old saying about free advice: you get what you pay for. The funny thing about advice is that it’s almost never solicited. And yet, you still end up paying the price.
Everyone knows that coworker or family member that always spouts advice when no one is asking for it. They don’t really care about your story or what you went through, they just want to prove they know the solution for every possible problem. Family drama? Legal issues? Relationship woes? They’ve always got the cure-all. They’ve been there, but worse, and they know how to fix it.
I know someone who is guilty of this most of the times she’s talking. Usually, I’ll be halfway through a story about dealing with a crisis, and before I can get to the end she’ll shout, “You know what you should do?” If she would just wait until the end of the story, she would realize I already solved the problem, or did my best. Her point is moot, but I still have to listen to her after-the-fact advice. Sure lady, go ahead and tell me what I should have done to fix the thing now that’s it’s over.
The appropriate response? “I’m sorry you had to go through that.” Or a simple: “That sucks.”
I know this person means well; she really just wants to help. Her motives are sincere despite her going about it the wrong way. A lot of mothers, and women in general, are “fixers.” They want to fix situations, especially ones where emotions are running high. Women are usually the culprits when it comes to offering up unsolicited advice in this arena.
The worst kind of wisdom someone can impart after the fact is the kind that’s sole purpose is to make the other person kick themselves after a mistake. This advice never helps anyone and is just mean-spirited.
For instance, let’s say you leave a cell phone at a restaurant, and it’s stolen before you can go back to get it. The worst kind of advice giver would say something like, “You know, you should always check your purse or pocket before you leave somewhere so this doesn’t happen again.”
Um, no shit. You’re not helping that person by reminding them of something they clearly already thought of later. What kind of person would lose their phone and think: “HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN TO ME!? I’m not at fault at all. Or am I? I wish someone would tell me what I did and how to avoid this again!”
They’ve already replayed the event 100 times in their head and hated themselves for it. You don’t need to remind them they made a mistake. They’re learning from their mistake as you speak. Your words are an anger-inducing, irrelevant reminder compared to the real-life lesson they’re experiencing.
People—usually family members—who do this like to think it’s because they want to prevent it from happening next time. Oh, those famous words: next time. Let’s get real, there’s not going to be a next time. You just want to comment on the thing that just happened.
Even if there is a next time, you might want to wait until that next time actually happens to establish a pattern. Two lost cell phones might warrant you saying: “Hey, you’ve been kind of careless with your phones in the past. Maybe try to make it a habit of double checking it when you’re on your way out the door.” Honestly, I’d wait until three phones.
Unfortunately, it never helps when you get defensive about this type of “advice.” The usual response is: “I’m just trying to help!”
If you are guilty of this, stop and think if you are really helping before you speak. Probably, you’re causing more grief than good. If you really wanted to help you’d say: “Well, there’s nothing you can do about it now. Let’s try to have a good night!”
Nobody needs someone to remind them to worry more. What they need is someone who shrugs it off and says: “Mistakes happen! Let’s not dwell.” My brain literally never thinks that; that is when I need my friends’ advice.
Any time you have to defend your own advice by saying, “I’m just trying to help,” you probably really aren’t. People learn from their own mistakes and they’ll probably resent you for trying to force the process. Don’t work out your frustration and control issues on someone else.
This is especially true when it comes to huge life decisions. I don’t care if you’re a mother, father, grandmother, sibling or best friend: don’t tell someone how to live their life if they’re over 18. It’s not your place and it never works. Unless your family member says: “I don’t know what to do,” just listen and help them weigh the pros and cons.
You can’t prevent the world from hurting your loved ones by trying to control every possible outcome. Think of helping your friends like how you would help a kid at a bowling alley: you can put bumpers on the lane but you can’t just roll the ball for them. That takes all the fun out of it.