Education

No, thank you!

If a person keeps intruding into your space with uninvited suggestions, politely thank them for their inputs and tell them that you are handling the issue.   | Photo Credit: Freepik

Be it a well-meaning uncle, a do-gooder neighbour or a paternalistic boss, most of us have received unsolicited advice on a range of matters. You complain to a friend that your jeans are too tight and she tells you that she knows of a very good dietician who has worked miracles with many ‘fatties.’ A relative sees you in a sari at a wedding and offers to send your photograph to “eligible bachelors.” A colleague at work proffers a cream that worked wonders for his pimples. When you overshoot a deadline at work, your manager lectures you on how tardiness can imperil not only your professional life, but your personal one as well. While unsolicited advice may be given with good intentions, research suggests that it rarely fixes problems. In How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, behavioural scientist Katy Milkman cites the work of psychologist Lauren Eskries-Winkler who found that often people don’t shed extra kilos or miss deadlines not because they don’t know how to achieve these goals. Instead, their lack of confidence in their ability to change stymies them. So, when ignorance isn’t the root of the problem, unsolicited advice may actually exacerbate the issue by further undermining a person’s sense of self-efficacy.

Put to test

Turning this logic on its head, Eskries-Winkler wondered if, instead of receiving advice, people would be more motivated to realise their goals if they gave counsel to others. To test this hypothesis, she teamed up with a group of researchers, including Milkman. Around 2000 high schoolers in Florida filled out digital questionnaires in their computer labs at the beginning of a semester. A subgroup was invited to advise younger pupils through the questionnaire on a range of issues that children typically contend with. For example, the older students provided guidance on how best to tackle procrastination, how to choose a place for focused study and how to perform better academically. After all the students had filled their surveys, the students returned to their classrooms.

At the end of the semester, the group that had proffered guidance to younger children, performed better than the others on Math and a class that they had earlier identified as important to them. The act of giving advice didn’t make C-students ace their tests, but all students in the advice-giving group upped their grades. Additionally, students reported that they enjoyed sharing tips and strategies.

While the act of giving advice may boost your self-efficacy, But be wary of doling out unsolicited advice to a friend or colleague. Instead, you may simply write down your counsel without actually giving it. And, if you are in a similar spot as your peer in the future, you have your own guidance to fall back on.

Likewise, if your gut instinct impels you to turn to others whenever you face a setback, you may first want to pause and survey your options. If a friend is in the same situation as you are in, what advice would you give your friend if he or she asks for it? Imagining a friend in your shoes provides some psychological distance for you to see the problem from another lens. Often, you might be surprised by how many creative solutions you can come up with. Of course, some problems demand that you seek help from others and, if you feel that is the best course of action, feel free to seek advice.

Milkman recalls that her doctoral advisor, Max Bazerman, who mentored dozens of students rarely dispensed advice, especially the unsolicited kind. By coaxing students to grapple with their own difficulties, he helped them cultivate not only their problem-solving skills but also imbued them with a greater belief in themselves. As giving advice can jeopardise a person’s sense of agency, first enquire if a person needs help. Ask them specifically how you might help before jumping in to fix their problems.

While you may be circumspect about telling people how to run their lives, what do you do when you are at the receiving end? If it is a one-off comment, just shrug it off. But if a person keeps intruding into your space with uninvited suggestions, politely thank them for their inputs and tell them that you are handling the issue. You may also add that, if you need help, you will contact them in the future. Just as you define your physical and personal spaces, you can draw boundaries to protect your “psychological space” as well.

The writer’s first book, Zero Limits: Things Every 20-Something Should Know was recently released by Rupa Publications.


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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 5:39:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/avoid-giving-and-receiving-unsolicited-advice/article35647779.ece

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