Friday, June 5, 2015

Unsolicited Advice

We were busy putting away equipment after a recent kickboxing class. It had just been announced that there would be a change in one of the evening class times, making it a 40 minute earlier start than the current 8pm time. A couple of class attendees were busy chatting about the change and they started discussing the problems with such a late evening class.

"I don't like to eat before I come to class because I always feel ill with a meal on my stomach, even if I eat at 5pm," said one.

The other involved nodded along. "I know. I don't like to eat before either, and then it's so late to eat after class that I often go to bed without a meal."

I completely identified with this conversation because it's one we've had in our household on occasion too. It's difficult to workout on a full stomach and it's tough to have energy if I don't eat.

A third person happened into the conversation and stated, "You know, you really must eat both before and after a workout. It's just not good for you to go without." The former two looked up, gave a bit of a stare, and then continued talking with each other.

I could sense the agitation with this intrusion to their conversation, but I had to get about my day and couldn't hang around to see how things ended.
I am guilty of similar interference as well though, much as I hate to admit it. It's almost inborn to want to offer advice to others when experienced with a task or activity. Sometimes, it's because I've had to figure things out the hard way and I just want to save someone else from the same problem(s) I've encountered. Maybe I just truly believe that I know a better way and am offering it as an alternative. Any way around it, this incident in class made me pause for a moment to think about the times when I've offered my own version of unsolicited advice.

It's easy to do - without even being aware that the "helpful tip" may be entirely unwanted. I don't think I'm a horribly pushy or intrusive person in everyday life, but I have had occasion to see someone riding with a saddle far too low or a person who appears quite stretched on her road bike and I can't help but want to offer my two cents.

Really, like the individual who interjected her thoughts after kickboxing class, I am not an authority or expert and should probably keep my opinions to myself, but it can be challenging when we've experienced the ramifications of the same actions another is carrying out. Most of the time, I will let it go unless opinion is sought, but there are times when it takes everything in me to keep my mouth shut.

When I think about it, we are surrounded by advice we aren't necessarily pursuing.
Five ways to feel more confident. 
Ten things you shouldn't eat. 
Eleven mistakes cyclists should never make. 
The BEST way to get six-pack abs.
Our world is a headline of unsolicited thoughts and opinions about what we should and should not do. It can make it difficult to know when ideas aren't necessarily wanted when we are ourselves continually bombarded with advice we weren't seeking. Of course, when it's an internet headline, we can make the choice to read through the ideas or completely ignore them. It's a lot more challenging to walk away or ignore a person standing right in front of us.

The trouble in my mind with un-requested opinions is that they can lead to the perpetuation of myth, or even cause a person to end an activity.

Without even realizing it, there have been times when I have offered my opinion to someone without understanding that my thoughts were a bit off from reality. It has never been my intention to do so, but when we hear or read something time and again, it seeps into our subconscious and can become a belief, or when we've experienced something that appears to support a hypothesis, it is easier to believe that the familiarity I've developed will be true for everyone, or at least most people.

Beyond this, riding a bike is an activity that ranges from the once-a-summer cruiser rider to the I-live-for-racing rider to the long distance event participant - and many shades of grey in between. Knowing what works for one cyclist does not then mean it will work for all, and offering opinion without all of the puzzle pieces may ultimately do more harm than good.

At its worst, I have been witness to unsolicited advice ending a persons participation with an activity. It may be that the opinions expressed come across as know-it-all-isms and the newbie feels unwanted or like an outsider, or it could be that the advice was wrong for the individual and resulted in damage or pain.

Even as open as I can be to others thoughts and ideas, I am stubborn when it comes to people offering opinion as fact.

Additionally, I enjoy figuring things out for myself, which doesn't mean I don't or won't ask for advice, but rather that learning along the way is part of what I enjoy about new - and old - activities. I've never been one to believe in hard truths one way or another anyway (with rare exception), and I enjoy seeking out my own answers, which often helps me gain confidence and skill.

I am certainly not stating that advice is always "bad" or "wrong," nor that it shouldn't be presented when appropriate, but simply offering the suggestion that it may be prudent to find out if the opinion is wanted or needed before jumping to the aid of another.

I know I would hate to feel responsible for offering ideas - especially uninvited ones - that don't work for an individual, and I definitely don't want to be the reason for ending someones enthusiasm for riding a bike.

One of the great things about blogs, Twitter, forums, and other online outlets is that these provide the opportunity both to share experiences, thoughts and perceptions on a topic, as well as providing the ability to seek out wanted information without it feeling too intrusive or preachy, I think. If I don't find merit in a particular viewpoint, I can look for another until my experiences-to-date ring true with what I'm reading.

For myself, I know that I am far more receptive to advice based on its delivery too. Even online I've read over topics that seemed to come across with a certain level of hostility or in a sharp tone. When an idea comes across as a lecture or in an I-know-more-than-you manner, I can feel myself become hardened to any ideas expressed - whether they are valid or not - which is entirely unfortunate because there is often truth and experience in the information being shared.

How do you feel about uninvited advice? Do you appreciate someone offering it if they think they know a better way, or do you find yourself more on guard with these types of comments? Is your reaction different based on the format in which the advice is shared (such as in person in every day life, or in an online format)? Do you offer up unsolicited advice (online or off)? Is it generally well-received, or do you find that it gets ignored?

11 comments:

  1. This is a tough one. I've had people offer me unsolicited advice that was just what I needed at the moment I needed it: "You know, if you shrug your shoulders a few times while you ride, you can work some of the tension out of your neck before it gets too bad." I tried it and thought "that's genius!" On the other hand, I've been on the receiving end of so much mansplaining in my time that I've honestly considering screaming at times. The best example was once when a bunch of us were joking about it being so hard it is to adjust a front derailleur that we were considering going to a 1x set up. I jokingly said, "Yeah who uses the big ring anyway? I'm so lazy, I just coast down hills." A guy -- completely earnest -- responded with "you know, if you pedal down the hill you can build up some momentum to help get you up the other side." Really, is that how that works. Wow. Who'd a thunk it?

    When I'm on the flip side of the equation -- seeing a situation where I think I could help someone out -- I'm always worried about coming off as a mansplaining know-it-all. I guess I make judgments about when to weigh in and when to stay quiet based on my relationship with the other person. I'm always left feeling uncertain though.

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    1. I think that your example is one of those times that I think (for me) it depends on the delivery of the advice or suggestion... and sometimes it depends who it's coming from (whether or not I know the person) too.

      I understand not wanting to come off as a know it all with advice, but I do think it's possible to help without coming across as a jerk, don't you?

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    2. Absolutely. As you say, it's a matter of how well you know the person or how well you can read the situation. In the example of the helpful shoulder shrugging advice, I was riding next to a woman I was just getting to know. She's ridden a lot of centuries, and I had mentioned I wanted to try to do that and was asking her about her experience. It was a very natural thing for her to make a suggestion and was very much welcomed. In the case of the mansplainer, we're talking about a guy who can wrench on bikes but hardly ever rides compared to someone (me) who is relatively new to wrenching but puts on a lot of miles. If he had paused for just a second, he would have realized that I know a lot better than he does how gravity and momentum affect riding effort.

      This is a really good post. It raises lots of interesting questions.

      On a totally unrelated note: After putting about 200 miles on my new bike, I had the bike shop make a couple of adjustments to the Bianchi. We put on a shortened stem with a higher rise and added interruptor levers. Wow -- what a difference it made in the comfort of the bike! I rode it 30 miles home from the shop and was amazed at how much more comfortable and in control I felt. I guess this isn't totally unrelated because it was reading about your adventures (?) in bike fit that helped me understand what kinds of changes I wanted to make. So, thanks for the advice!

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    3. I am glad that the new bike is coming along and suiting you well. I think there are always periods of adjustment with any new bike - even if we love it and it fits decently. I've yet to own a bike that didn't require some amount of tweaking. Being able to ride 30 miles in comfort is telling though, so hopefully the changes will make for a great ride. Sometimes even what seem to be very minor adjustments make a major difference. I've learned to try not to do too many at once, but I'm always amazed at what just a small change can do.

      Happy continued riding!

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  2. I think I'm much more responsive to questions and expressions of feelings than I am to direct advice, which suggests there's something I don't know that I really should know. For example, "Pardon me, but were you aware that your scarf has come loose in the back, and appears to be in danger of entangling in your back wheel?" seems preferable to "Hey! Your about to strangle yourself on your own scarf!" Both of those are possibly bettered by "Excuse me, but I feel concerned for you because I noticed your scarf is dangling near your wheel, and I just wanted to make sure you were aware of that or else I'd be worried sick for the rest of the evening."

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    1. I am laughing out loud reading this.

      I would agree that when it comes across as genuine concern (feeling) it is far easier to accept than direct advice (which has a tendency to come off exactly as you've described).

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    2. Your example is hilarious! And I agree with your analysis of presentation. I hadn't thought of it that way before, but you are right: telling me what you are worried about works better than telling me what I should do.

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  3. Where I draw the line is frequent advice or stated "You should...". That's annoying and you are correct, may not apply to everyone's riding style. I've been on the receiving end. I figure most riders can figure out stuff on their own. I am guilty of offering some advice but not often. Wording and intent is important.

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    1. I once upon a time read a psychology article that was about the way different personalities communicate. One descriptor to separate two different sorts was illustrated by stating some people form sentences in a "You should" or "Do this" type of way, while another type is often more passive, making things sound like a suggestion such as saying, "I have tried doing this. Maybe it would work for you?" I can't help but wonder if some of this has more to do with personality than one might think initially? Perhaps it's merely just a matter of the way different people communicate. Some are simply statement makers, while others find a roundabout way of addressing concerns?

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  4. As I read this post it took me back to a time at my last gym where I was talking to another regular runner there, and I complimented her running form and effortless way of moving. She responded by giving me a short lesson about my form and what I could do to improve it. I nodded and listened, but inside I was thinking, hmmm, this isn't really where I intended my comment to lead! So one of the things I've learned in a gym situation is that a conversation can go in many unexpected ways, AND when you are conversing in an open area, people will sometimes participate in a conversation when you don't expect it. I try not to take it personally. It's a public space. If you want a private convo, then you need to go somewhere private for that.

    I have been the recipient of unsolicited advice and I have also been the provider of such. Sometimes I have misread situations thinking that a person is looking for advice when they really want to talk or process. I imagine this happens to others, too. I try to remember that I don't really know where people are coming from. I mean, we're not walking around with a list of our bonafides on our chests, nor do all of us want the same thing out of conversations we have, whether it be advice, a space to process, or connection. There was a viral video circulating a few years ago of the four types of people you meet at the gym and one of them was "The Coach." The coach definitely circulates the gyms where I've been a member.

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    1. It's interesting that our comments sometimes lead into conversations we never intended. I've had a few moments during which something came out of my mouth and then I thought about it later and realized it probably wasn't the best way to share information. It's never coming from a bad place or an I-know-more-than-you belief, but I can see how there are times something I've said could be perceived in such a manner.

      I would agree that having a conversation in an open area is an invitation for commentary from those in the surrounding area, so it's difficult to be too upset with someone for offering their thoughts in those circumstances.

      You make an excellent point - we are not all after the same end in conversations. I am reminded that I have had many conversations with friends who offered advice and then were upset when I did something entirely to the contrary. I think that often times when I seek opinion it is more often than not to make sure I've considered all the possibilities and not necessarily that I need help with the ultimate decision. Sometimes it is nice to just have the opportunity to process through everything with another person and not receive any advice at all.

      I suppose, ultimately, it is all part of the human experience. We all have different ways of operating and functioning and are sometimes looking for something entirely different out of a conversation.

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