April 5, 2018

“I Wouldn’t Presume to Advise You.”

As you may have deduced from the exciting Wow photo, above, I had a bit of eye surgery this week; specifically, surgery for cataracts.

In the weeks prior to my appointment, I mentioned it to a few people here and there and—as you might imagine—a lot of people had a lot to say.

The title of this post, however, was my favorite comment. The fact that the person who said it had actually had cataract surgery only increased my joy.

Why did I love it so much?

Because, as I’m sure you have noted in your own life, regardless of the situation you are in and others’ familiarity with it (or lack thereof) lots and lots of people in this world have lots and lots of advice to offer.

Why is this a negative?

Again, as I’m sure you know from your own experience, it’s because most of us are fairly set on our course of action most of the time, making the receipt of unsolicited advice anything from exhausting to overwhelming to panic-inducing.

Why do I think this phrase works? First, because it begins by acknowledging that the giving of unsolicited advice is presumptuous— it infers that your listener hasn’t thought things through. Second, because it allows the receiver a choice: they can either say, “Thanks. I’ve thought through my options and I’m happy with my decision.” Or, “In fact, I’d love to hear your opinion.”

What other choices do I recommend?

Well if you’re a bit dubious but no one has asked for your advice, my favorite fall back is, “Tell me more about that…” (FYI: this phrase is one of my favorites across multiple situations and I was so pleased that recently The New York Times Magazine agreed.) This either gives you more insight into their thinking and/or they notice a plot hole as they talk more.

If you want to be encouraging, you might offer, “I can tell you have given this a lot of thought.”

Finally—if you are, in fact, asked, “What would you do?” I would refer you to my favorite way of handling that question (which I covered in detail in a 2016 blog post)which is to respond, “When I was in a similar situation I did X.” and then stop talking.

It’s surprisingly tough, which is why—as noted above—I greeted, “I wouldn’t presume to advise you,” as a fantastic new tool in my non-committal-response toolbox.

** Again, if you were intrigued, see “Do You Have a Lot to Say or Are You Just Saying a Lot”

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