A while back, I wrote in "Six Steps to Getting Honest Critical Feedback" -
I think that’s true, but I still try to almost never give negative criticism to anyone, ever.
“As a general rule…people ask for advice only in order not to follow it; or if they do follow it, in order to have someone to blame for giving it.” — From Alexandre Dumas’s “The Three Musketeers”
I’ve found the vast majority of people will never take any criticism you give them, will be upset at you for criticizing them, and will dislike you even more if you were right.
I’ve gotten this wrong plenty, and still get it wrong sometimes. Most of the time, giving critical advice to someone is a very, very bad idea. I can only think of a few exceptions to that rule.
It's just a lesson borne out of experience. The vast majority of people react poorly to unsolicited advice. Even the most patient, enlightened, introspective people usually don't react well to unsolicited advice.
Oh, sure, you can share a recipe on how to cook a dish with someone, or tell them that getting a rice cooker would make their life easier. But if you advise someone to change what they're currently doing, more than 9 out of 10 times it's not going to go well. Maybe it won't be a disaster , but it's usually not a good idea.
That said, I was kind of bummed out when I wrote that. Huh, that's too bad. Is that really how the world is? Never give advice unsolicited, and also be careful even before giving solicited-for advice unless you know the person really, truly, actually wants it?
And it strikes me - unsolicited critical advice usually goes over poorly. Defense mechanisms and identity and things like that get in the way. But I think the world could probably use more unsolicited encouragement, and that rarely blows up.
So I think, if you really want to be a benevolent advice-giver, maybe lean towards encouraging people instead of advising them. Instead of, "You ought to quit your job," perhaps instead, "You know, I always thought you'd be awesome at running your own company."
Things like that. It's more subtle, much more palatable. Yeah, unsolicited critical advice is still a huge no-no, but unsolicited encouragement is good.
I think this quote fits well:
"Don't believe your friends when they ask you to be honest with them. All they really want is to be maintained in the good opinion they have of themselves." -Camus, from The Stranger
Whats interesting is he goes on to say something like "even if they ask for honesty, it just means they want a reason to believe your lies." Really opened my eyes to how people want to be treated, though I often forget this.
It's good to know a little psychology when advising people. A perception check is a good one, stating the behavior, giving two interpretations and asking which one is right.
Advising might not seem like something crucial to success, but it can be the difference between keeping a friend and driving them away. So like with all things your uncertain about, do some research, or a quick Google search, and learn about it.
This post didn't turn out how I expected it to.. posting it anyway because some content is better then no content at all. So i hope there will be other comments i can read in response to the post,
By the way, advice I tell myself on helping others is: "no matter how great my advice feels: Imagine you’re advising a mother she isn’t raising her child well and you want to tell her how to raise it better." -- http://joshuaspodek.com/unsolicited_advice
These words have served me well. You never know how attached someone is to whatever you want to advise them on.
The best method to get meaningful advice I've ever come across is Marshall Goldsmith's "Feedforward." I'd summarize it here, but his site gives the best description: http://www.marshallgoldsmithlibrary.com/cim/articles_display.php?aid=110
I use his advice regularly to get great advice. It's trivially simple to implement, effective, and builds relationships. I use his advice for clients I coach and in all my seminars on leadership and personal development.
Question from a reader -
Hi Sebastian, a question. I'd like to know how you came to be so... gracious. I've noticed that not only do you preach for others to spread gratitude, but you really do go over-the-top with it. It's a bit unbelieveable at times. But I have a good friend who is always very glad to see me (and everyone else). We aren't close anymore, but I always feel we are. I get the feeling you're similarly genuine. How did that come to be? Have you always been that way? I've been trying to be more thankful, but I don't want it to come off as meaningless as a forced plastic smile.
Well, first, that email totally made my day. Thank you.
Before I answer, I've got to pose a hypothetical question to you. Trust me, it's relevant:
Do you think it's more virtuous to do $5,000 worth of good for someone and get $0 in return, or to do $10,000 worth of good for someone and get $2,000 in return?
Here's my theory: harsh criticism is one of the most valuable commodities out there, and you should be collecting as much of it as possible. Secondly, people enjoy giving harsh criticism, but only if they know it will be appreciated. If they think you might react poorly, you'll never hear it.
Sebastian and I pretty much have a relationship based on harsh criticism. I remember a year ago or so he was in San Francisco, it was after midnight, and we were circling this random patio in the middle of the park. And we were just unloading on each other. It felt like a boxing match or something.
And, you know, after the conversation we were both better off, and probably better friends, too. We both love giving and receiving harsh criticism.
I got an email from him last week, saying that it seemed like my focus on Sett was waning and that I was spending too much effort on learning languages, traveling, and being crazy. It was more eloquently written than that, but that was the gist.