You need to embrace criticism… is good advice that makes you want to slap the person giving it (receiver) “Yeah, I know; I’m not stupid. Which cheek do you want me to slap?” It’s amazing how advice feels like criticism, and criticism feels like a putdown; it’s as if you’re too dumb to have figured it out yourself. This Christmas I want to give you the gift of knowing how to take advice and criticism better. If you’re thinking, “But Chad, didn’t you just say that advice is like criticism, so now that you’re giving advice you’re actually criticizing me?” Yes, but I can because I’m amazing… or I’ve learned some amazing things I’m now sharing; it depends on your perspective. The nice thing for you is I’m offering advice and you get to choose whether you read it or not. No one is forcing you… if they are, that’s a very strange form of torture, and not very complimentary to me. Fortunately, I can take this criticism because I’m taking my own advice.
A few months ago I wrote why people drink too much, and I pointed out an exercise where you take an action like drinking too much and you look beneath it in order to consider at least ten possible intentions; you’re like a detective looking for the motive in the crime. This is also a great exercise to start with here. So what are the possible intentions for people giving advice?
- They feel they have to: Sometimes we feel obligated to help.
- They just want to talk: Sometimes advice comes from a lonely person who just wants an excuse to talk.
- To feel value by contributing something: This is particularly big for older people, and should be remembered in order to help them feel respected.
- To have their experience validated: Sometimes giving advice gives people’s own experience meaning like the death of a loved one or a divorce.
- To prove themselves: Advice can be a way to show you’re smart enough to be liked.
- To prevent guilt: Giving advice can help prevent feeling bad about someone’s suffering.
- Because of sympathy: Feeling sorry for someone who seems to be unnecessarily struggling can be a strong motivator.
- To show they care: Some people just want to show they care about you.
- To help & guide: Some people genuinely want to serve others and/or encourage improvement.
- For safety reasons: Sometimes the advice is for the safety of you and/or others.
- To motivate & encourage: Sometimes we need a kick in the pants to get moving.
- To create harmony and unity: Sometimes advice is meant to direct people to fall in line and follow what others are doing .
- To control others: Anxiety has a way of making people very controlling of others.
- To control the situation: Some people try to control situations to feel less anxious
- To insult: Sometimes advice is actually meant to put others down and/or to make them remember their “place”.
- To feel superior: Some people just want to feel smarter or better in some way.
- They think you’re stupid: Sometimes advice is given because they think you’re stupid.
When someone gives advice or criticism, it helps to consider if the intention is positive or negative. When we’re insecure, we normally assume the worst, which makes even the nicest person’s advice seem like an attack. From my experience, advice is typically on the positive side and the giver is simply trying to help. This is important to remember because we look bad if we are suddenly rude or mean to someone just trying to be helpful. If it feels like an attack, you need to clarify it. I’ve discussed this tool before including last week’s tips for listening: To clarify (two options with one being positive). For instance, “To clarify, are you trying to insult me or be helpful?” “To clarify, are you trying to say I’m stupid or am I missing something?” or “To clarify, are you trying to make me feel incompetent or am I mishearing this?” Notice there is always one positive option in order to give the person an out. There isn’t pressure for guessing the right intention because the two options are meant to give the other person a starting point for thinking and it softens the question compared to: “What do you mean by that?” If the other person says they’re trying to help, you are now welcome to say something like: “Thank you for trying to help, but I’m going to try to figure this out on my own,” or “Thank you for your help, but I just want to complain and have someone tell me my situation sucks.” We should never be rude, but if we don’t want advice we should assertively prevent anymore tips being shared. On the other hand, if we want the advice, we can ask for it to be given in a certain way or we can ask questions to gather the information we actually want. Finally, if you ask to clarify and the other person is actually being rude or insulting (that’d be surprising), then we should simply say something like “Thank you for your honesty, but I don’t need people putting me down.” Even if people are mean, we should avoid being rude back because this prevents a possible fight and makes us look better; love is more powerful than meanness. Ultimately, no matter what’s said we need to consider whether this is something we should hold onto or kick out of our memory. Words and people’s feelings only have power if we dwell on them.
By understanding what the person’s intention is, it can be easier for us to accept what they have to say, and if we have the option of saying thanks but no thanks, we can feel empowered and be in a better spot to either take or throw out the advice.
Tip: If you ever want to give advice, make sure it’s in the form of a question like “Have you considered…?” This can help reduce the insult feel. This can even be helpful in disciplining: “So you did (thing)? Did you consider how it would affect (someone)?” Of course, this doesn’t always work like if you’re a coach: “Have you thought of skating faster?” “Have you considered what it’d be like if you took your head out of your backside?” Sometimes we just need to be straight up, but for the most part, being straight up with anyone who isn’t a pushover will lead to a fight, being quietly resented, or being backstabbed.
This week may you start to see that advice and criticism doesn’t have to be mean or insulting.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people