September 20, 2011

May I Share Something with You?

(No! Or, How to Elegantly Extricate Yourself from Others’ Well-Meaning Advice)

Right up there with “We need to talk,” as a stomach-sinking starter, is the phrase, “May I share something with you?” (and it’s blunter cousin, “Don’t be offended, but…”)

In my experience, both phrases are generally followed by unsolicited advice regarding aspects of my character/personal grooming/housekeeping/love life/the dog’s behavior…and often close with, “I just thought, if your mother/father/sister/brother/best friend can’t tell you, who can?”

How to respond? Well, despite the fact that I’m often tempted to shout, “No!” when someone offers to ‘share’ something with me there are times I have the mental stamina to hear what’s being said without completely losing my equanimity. If I’m having one of these banner days, I will say, “Sure—but bear in mind I might be prompted to share something in return,” a remark which often leads the person in question to drop the subject entirely—or at least pause for a moment while they regroup.

Having listened to their input, I’ve been known to respond one of two ways: hopelessly defensively and somewhat less so. Regardless of my reaction, however, the same response sees me through, and that is, “Thank you for bringing it up. I’ll think about what you’ve said.”

What’s the beauty of this particular phrasing? For starters, it’s true (You will be thinking about it!); thanking them acknowledges their good intention in mentioning it (and if their intention wasn’t good, you seem like the graceful one); it doesn’t commit you to any particular change going forward.

If it’s not a good day to receive unsolicited advice, I’ve found it’s perfectly OK to say, “Actually today’s not a good day for a share– but let me circle back later when I can give you 100% of my attention.”  This leaves me free to inquire later—or not—when I’ve had the time to assess their intention and/or bolster my bandwidth.

Frances Cole Jones

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