How To Be a More Compelling Person: Stop Helping People.
Ever notice that there’s always someone ready and willing to step up and tell you you’re doing something wrong in the middle of your job? It could be a simple task you’re completing and you may have been doing it for many years. Yet there’s still always one little birdie who’s ready and willing to tell you a better way to do it “based on their experience”. How magnanimous.
And what is it usually met with? Annoyance. Defensiveness. Some sort of push back.
Either way, advice, no matter how it’s surface-level taken, is usually never really welcomed. It’s actually pretty rare to find an adult who will willingly seek advice as most people think the job they’re doing is fine or (on average) better than the idiots who currently surround them. And therein lies the problem.
Most people think they’re better than you.
Talk to anyone and most likely they’re thinking a few things in the back of their mind. How they would do it better, some sort of contradictory point to combat you with, or how much better looking/smarter they are than you. It’s scientific fact that most people see themselves above average, a statement that’s not really surprising when you factor in all of the self-professed “good” drivers on the road.
So if you’re giving advice, chances are you’re most likely giving it to an audience that isn’t really ready to hear it yet. Even if you’re right most likely they’ll forget it in a day and if you’re wrong, then they’ll hold it against you for an indeterminant amount of time, keeping silent score inside their head. They may not even be aware of it, but the next time you open your mouth your previous bad advice will undermine the weight of your current words. Which brings us to our next point.
You are woefully unaware of the factors at play
People, circumstances, and experience all vary. Combine these three elements into one situation and you have an endless number of possibilities of what could actually be happening. You’re just looking at it from a spyglass, getting a snapshot of an outcome or a perceived outcome, and then injecting yourself into the situation. No one likes that.
Often advice dispensed is usually to dispel the insecurities creeping into the mind of the giver. The ones I’ve seen give the most advice are those who perceive that they have the most experience in an organization (even if it’s only by a few months) and thusly work to bring down others so that they can bolster their superiority (mental in more ways than one).
The only problem here is that you’re working with people who have a vast amount of background and experience. Their wisdom varies and they may have adopted techniques that seem unfamiliar to you but actually are innovative and maybe get the job done faster. Which brings us to our final point…
Your advice probably won’t affect the outcome
The other day an employee came up to me and asked me to adjust something in our system. Upon going over to the computer to see what she was talking about, I noticed that everything was in place and fine. Though maybe she took a different path than I would have taken, she still would have reached the same conclusion. Upon affirming to her that she was on the right track and there was no need to start undoing her work she responded by saying another co-worker had stepped in and told her to do it differently.
Now it is well known that this third party often has a tendency to step in when unnecessary and add snippets of advice or comments when they don’t serve the greater function. It borders on compulsion. We both did a collective mental eye-roll and proceeded on our ways. But here’s the true lesson.
By dispensing that advice, what did that third co-worker prove?
Which brings us to this point: 99% of advice given does not actually expedite any process. It only serves to make you look like a know-it-all. Or worse yet, you’ll appear to be needlessly posturing over a detail that doesn’t matter in the long run.
So how do you combat this? Keep in mind, we as humans have a running dialogue in our head at all times. And, as referenced above, most of it is about how much better/smarter/awesomer we are and how much better/smarter/awesomer we can make others if peopoel would only listen. But most of your advice is useless. So here are a few strategies you can employ.
Let them make the mistake
There are just some lessons that can only be learned by fucking things up. It’s like watching a crane fall down or a kid run his bike into a pole. It’s cringe-worthy to watch and you want so bad to step in but the lesson is dulled if there is someone constantly on the side willing to straighten the tracks. And it sucks to see someone get yelled at for something that you could have helped them avoid. But sometimes the lesson hits home further.
You also have the added benefit of seeing how people react under stress. Both from the person receiving the haranguing and the one giving it. Stress is a powerful indicator for the maturity of others and to see who has the gonads to take the reigns and fix themselves and take things in stride and who can’t seem to get over a slight error.
Finally, people notice those who constantly mess up. And it is absolutely useless for you to expend extra energy to try and constantly watch over them and help them. Let the fuck-ups be the fuck-ups and continue to dig their own grave. Smart people know when they’re messing up and they also know how to fix it.
The only exception to this is if you see an imminent loss of life or a mistake that will cost your company a substantial amount.
Fix things in silence
Have you ever been around someone who is just waiting for you to come back so they can point out where you’ve gone wrong? It’s annoying isn’t it? How much more gratifying is it to notice that maybe you messed something up but someone came along, helped you out, and didn’t make a big deal about it. The relief rains down on you like a cool shower on a summer day.
And that’s how you get people to like you. Don’t lord their mistakes over them. If you see something going wrong, fix it yourself and walk away. The best performers always work a little more silently and a little more humbly than you might expect.
That is to say, don’t keep constantly adjusting things that don’t need to be adjusted. That just comes off as petty and compulsive. But if there’s something obviously wrong that can be easily fixed, then take the initiative and help a brother out without making a big deal about it.
Accept advice graciously but then be competent privately
As with anything, just because you follow these rules doesn’t mean that others will. You’ll still be surrounded by people willing to give you useless advice you don’t wanna hear. But do you know what’s even worse? Pushing back, becoming defensive, or trying to over-explain what you were doing. Nothing is less compelling than when you see someone try to backpedal futily for self-justification. You won’t win over the heart of the advice giver (they’ll only see it as affirmation of their superiority) and worse you’ll look like a sniveling, groveling idiot who doesn’t have the cajones to stand up and next to their own work.
Instead of arguing back and risking making you both look like idiots, smile, say thank you, and then proceed to do the job you were doing. Heck, if it helps things, try applying the method they’re advising in front of them just to see if it really works as well as they said it would (keep your biases in check). You may end up discovering something new yourself. And hey, if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work. Next time go about it your own way and figure out the method that works best for you.
But at all costs, try to make each other look good. Or at least not bad. Devolving into a verbal scrabble with someone over a frivolous matter will only serve to lessen your charisma to all observers.
In the end, after 20 years in the professional world and being employed in a variety of careers, this is the best advice I can give you (ha! the irony). You’ll be surrounded by annoying advice-givers at all stages of your personal and professional life. What you choose to take and leave behind is up to you.
Conversely, you’ll feel compelled often to step in and try to “help” a situation. Don’t. Not unless there’s impending death or grievous losses. At best you’re right and people will feel annoyed to be one-upped by you. At worse, you’re wrong and then those same people will lord it over you. And you’ll find that you’re more often wrong than right.
Now keep in mind when I say, “stop helping people” this isn’t to mean you shouldn’t help that old lady across the street or pitch in to pick up something that’s fallen down or dropped. But unsolicited advice, which by my estimation accounts for 90% of the advice out there, is rarely welcome.
Be a better man. Rise above the rhetoric. Act with graciousness and humility and hopefully soon you’ll find your co-workers treating you the same.