It’s so tempting to dole out well-meaning suggestions to friends and strangers. Sometimes they appreciate the support, and are grateful for good Samaritans willing to share their expertise. And sometimes they shoot you an evil glare and make you wish you’d never even opened your mouth at all. How do you know when you should offer choice words of wisdom, and when such an activity would be pointless for all involved. Here’s some questios to ask yourself.
1. Do you have any rapport with this person?
Barking orders at strangers, no matter how accurate they are, is not likely to get a positive response.
2. Did this person ask for your help? Do they want your help?
There are a lot of reasons someone may not appreciate unsolicited advice. Perhaps they already received advice they’re working on or testing out, or they’re okay with engaging in a self-correcting activity and learning the hard way. Maybe the way you make recommendations isn’t what they’re comfortable with; they can’t learn the way you teach or don’t have the time at the moment or are engaged in other things. One really good way to find out if someone will listen to you is to ask them if they’re open to suggestions, and then respond appropriately. (Or, if you’re the person constantly receiving unwanted suggestions, you can let people know ahead of time what you’re looking for. Some people take “I’m not looking for advice right now” the wrong way, but they won’t respond well to you rolling your eyes and ignoring them, either.)
3. Are you legitimately trying to help this person? Or do you just want to hear the sound of your own voice?
Nobody can really answer this for you, though it is sort of obvious when you offer someone “help” when other people are watching (but not when you’re alone with them), or when you, say, tag someone on facebook in a video in response to a question they asked you…without answering their question. Do a quick gut check to see what your motivation really is. Is there a reason you always want to be in this helper role, and is it a legitimate one? Are you making a suggestion to help someone improve, or are you simply trying to build your own ego?
4. Do you actually have the expertise (and distinct knowledge) required to help?
When I started playing around with Olylifting (which really was just a hobby), I had a coach about an hour away write my training programs for me and instruct me in the specifics of each movement when I had the time to drive down to his gym. So when I went to my own gym at home to lift weights and strangers who had never done a c+j in their life proceeded to give me advice at the gym, I had no qualms about saying, “Are you my coach? Because I already have one.” Not that you need specific qualifications to offer advice, but it’s good to at least know what you’re talking about–or make it clear when you don’t. A good gauge is whether or not you are open-minded to someone who may have different circumstances or experiences for whatever reason, which may be something you have NO experience with if you’ve never worked with someone who has the same injuries, limitations, size, etc. as the person you’re giving advice to.
5. Did you even see what they were doing?
Make sure you’re paying attention–if what you assume someone’s doing is different from what they’re actually doing…and you offer advice based on your assumption…that quite often is a deal breaker. (See #1.)
6. Is there something else this person wants to be doing other than immediately implementing your suggestion?
Timing is everything, and offering advice usually entails a lot of you talking and the other person listening. Someone who would be more than happy to hear what you have to say may not want to do so when they’re in the middle of something, so pay attention to what is and isn’t an appropriate time. Example: if someone’s in the middle of a series of sprints, they probably won’t want to stop their workout to listen to your long-winded explanation of proper running form, or your thoughts on the best footwear on the market.
7. Speaking of time–does this person have time to implement your suggestions? Does this person have the desire to implement these suggestions?
If you are asking someone to do something on their own which requires any amount of time, you may want to see if they’re open to that first. It always blows my mind when near-strangers give me suggestions for ways to improve projects I’m working on (which they’re not even involved in, in any capacity) without asking me if I have the time or if that’s how I’d wish to spend the time. You can’t just assume someone would do what you think you would do in the same situation… there are often circumstances of which you are completely unaware. Even if they do have the time, is that the way they’d want to spend it?
8. Are you going to make judgements about the person if they do not implement your suggestions?
Kind of a sign that you may not really be trying to help them. Are you trying to knock someone down or build them up?
9. Are you doing something for someone instead of teaching them how to do it themselves?
When I was trying to learn bike repair, one of my pet peeves was when people would “show” me something by taking the tool out of my hand and doing it themselves. In addition to making me want to break things, this also assured that I had absolutely no idea how to do the thing myself later on. There are actually a lot of ways to do something for someone without
10. Can you lead by example?
Say there’s something you’re absolutely dying to tell someone, but they don’t even really know you (#1), didn’t ask for your help (#2), don’t think you have the proper qualifications (#4), aren’t convinced you were even watching (#5), and even if you were the perfect candidate to help them with their quest, they’re totally in the middle of something (#6) and don’t have the time to implement any new strategies anyway (#7). Instead of listening to yourself speak (#3), making judgements on people who don’t implement your suggestions (#8), and doing your darnedest to force it on them (#9), why not lead by silent example? This won’t necessarily build rapport with people and convince them to ask you for help based on your qualifications and expertise…but it sure as hell can’t hurt. It’ll also help you save your energy for people who need it. Because, after all, it’s no fun being greeted with hostility if you’re just trying to help.