5 Communication Myths Busted

From advice that says you should imagine your audience naked to make yourself more comfortable when giving a speech, to the “fact” that 93% of all communication is nonverbal, communication myths abound.

When I decided to do a blog post about communication myths, there were so many I had a difficult time honing in on just five. However, based on personal experience, and the fact that these issues have come up repeatedly in workshops and seminars over the years, I present you with the following five communication myths you likely believe. Even if you read them and say, “Of course this is a myth,” ask yourself, “but do I still do it?” I think you’ll be surprised by the answer.

Myth #5 – When people say, “uh huh” or “got it”, that means they understood me. 

Busted: Imagine you’re in your kitchen, stirring a fantastic pot of spaghetti sauce. The kitchen smells great, you have the water boiling for the pasta, and the phone rings. It’s your spouse, saying he or she is stopping at the store on the way home and wants to know if you need anything. You say, “bread,” and your spouse says, “got it,” and then shows up with this:

Communication Expert Amy Castro unclear communication example

You quickly realize communication has NOT occurred. What exactly does “got it” mean? Got what? The wrong bread, that’s what.

So who is at fault in this situation? Technically both parties. However, since you were the one initiating the conversation, you bear the responsibility for ensuring communication has truly occurred.

First, you should have been more specific. Having been married 27 years, I have learned to say,

“I need a fresh-baked loaf of Italian bread. You’ll find it at HEB, in the bakery section, second shelf, five loaves in. It’s in a brown-paper bag and says ‘Pane Italiano’ on it.”

Some people argue with me on this point, saying, “Well, if the other person didn’t understand, why didn’t he or she ask?” The answer is, for the same reason you weren’t specific in the first place- you had a mental picture of what you wanted when you said, “bread” so you thought you were being clear. Your listener hears the word “bread” and conjures up a mental picture of something as well, it just turned out to be a different picture.

Second, when your dinner (or a work project) is on the line, don’t let a conversation end with “uh huh.” When someone’s initial response is “uh huh,” “got it” or something similar, and the conversation ends at that, you can rest assured that you and the other person are NOT on the same page. Therefore, ask questions, ask the person to describe what he or she will do, do SOMETHING to ensure that the other party has a clear picture of what you want or need before assuming communication has occurred.

Myth #4 – When people say “yes”, that means they agree.

Busted: You ask your employee to take on a new task. You explain the steps in great detail and at the end of the conversation, you ask, “Do you understand what needs to be done?” There is a big difference between a “Yes, definitely,” said in an enthusiastic tone, and “Uh, yes, I guess so” or “If that’s what you want to do, then yes.”

Be sure to pay attention to HOW someone says yes. Is there hesitation? Does the person’s face look worried (i.e., telling you no nonverbally) while saying yes? Is there a “qualifier” before or after the yes? Any of these should signal to you that although the person SAID yes, what he or she meant is NO.

Myth #3 – If I tell others “my door is always open”, they’ll come to me with problems.

Busted: For years, managers and leaders have told their employees they have an open door policy. The problem is, no one wants to walk through the door.

Going to, or being called into the boss’ office is a big step for employees. It’s not just another office, it’s the boss’ territory. Not only does it conjure up the feelings one might have had going to the principal’s office in grade school, but people become very concerned with what their coworkers are thinking when they walk across the threshold and close the door. Additionally, many bosses SAY they have an open door policy, but they’re either never in the office, have the door closed, or look/act annoyed when an employee drops by.

It takes more than an open door policy to get people to come to you with problems. Be sure to take opportunities to go to them. Check in with others frequently to see how they’re doing. Take the time to really listen and you’ll likely be surprised what they share.

Myth #2 – When someone says, “I’m over it,” they’re over it.

Busted: I’m always amazed when people will tell me about a past slight, difficult situation, argument, etc., sharing their story with obvious anger or frustration in their voices, and then end the story by saying, “but I’m over it.”

So if they’re over it, why are they still talking about it?

If someone is still bringing up a past situation, they’re not over it, no matter how many times they say they are. The question is, what do you do about the fact that they’re not really over it?

It depends. If it’s not your place to get involved, you might just move on. If the issue involves you, you might say, “You say that you’re over it, but I think the fact that you brought it up means you want to discuss it further. Let’s talk about it.”

Myth #1 – Communication always makes things better.

Busted: Used correctly and in skilled hands, communication is an excellent tool and often makes situations better.

However, “more communication” in and of itself does not make things better, and in fact can make things worse. Here are some examples:

  • Writing a 200 word email when your message could have been communicated in 20 words.
  • Fighting with a family member about an issue, only to have the conversation disintegrate into name calling, insults, and other hurtful comments.
  • Pushing someone to give you a solution when he or she hasn’t had a chance to think about the problem.

Quality, not quantity of communication is what makes things better. Timing, readiness of the other party to communicate, and other factors also impact communication effectiveness. So when you want to “fix” something, don’t just throw more communication at the problem, create a plan for effectively communicating with others.

 

Why Laziness is the REAL Mother of Invention

tp empty rollWhile having lunch with my friend Beverly the other day, she was lamenting various employee challenges- from lack of personal responsibility to downright laziness.

Case in point, the simple act of changing the toilet paper roll in the restroom. She just couldn’t understand how someone could be so lazy that they couldn’t take the 10 seconds to replace the toilet paper roll properly and instead, stack the new roll on top of the TP holder.

tp empty roll 1

 

 

Or, even worse, tell themselves they hadn’t actually used the LAST of the TP on the roll.

 

 

This age-old act of laziness apparently doesn’t just make Beverly’s blood boil. There are countless articles on the internet ranting about such laziness. In fact, there’s a video on YouTube made by a dad for his teenagers called, “Toilet Roll Changing: Teenage Instructional Video #1,” that has more than 4 million views!

I realize that changing the TP is an extreme example of laziness and it’s hard to come up with an argument that justifies it.

However, if you look at the issue of “laziness” another way, many of our greatest innovations have been been borne from laziness. It is laziness, not necessity, that is the real mother of invention.

The car, microwave, remote control, escalator, calculator, and countless other inventions all came about because we were too “lazy” to walk, cook, get up and change the channel, climb the stairs, and add 1+1 on our own. This type of “laziness” is not about a lack of caring, it’s about finding an easier, better, more efficient way of doing things. In fact, the very definition of efficiency, “Achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.” implies that laziness is a requirement!

This type of “laziness” was one of the reasons I started my own business 20 years ago. My daughter was just a few months old when I was offered a job that paid well, but would have required me to work 60 hours per week. I just didn’t want to work those long hours when I had a new baby at home. My “laziness” forced me to get creative and to seek a way to make the same income working fewer hours. I decided to start my own business speaking and facilitating workshops on communication. I started small, speaking at breakfast meetings and luncheons, and as my daughter grew older and went to school, I was able to offer my clients longer workshops and built a thriving business.

So, the next time you’re feeling too “lazy” to do something, take the time to find out why and then get creative in identifying alternatives to get the task done.When you see your employees (or children) being “lazy”, instead of getting frustrated, look for solutions, or even better, ask them to identify solutions or alternatives. You’ll likely find that laziness leads to increased productivity and better, more creative ways of doing things.

That’s what Beverly did. Problem solved.

new tp holder

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Challenging Question You’ll Ever Ask

Any parent can tell you one of the most annoying questions kids ask is, “Why?”

Why is the sky blue?

Why is the grass green?

Why do I have to take a bath?

Although it may sometimes feel like kids ask these questions merely to annoy us, kids ask them because they’re trying to understand their world.

The question, “Why?” has come up over and over again this week in a variety of places in my life.

My friend and colleague Michelle and I have committed to a weekly study session to help each other plan the direction of our businesses. When we met this week, it seemed the question, “Why?” or some variation came up repeatedly.

Why are we (do we want to be) speakers and trainers?

Why do we think there’s a need for our services?

Why would someone buy our products?

These questions are often challenging to answer, but essential to our future success. Why? Because they will help us define our motivation for moving forward and rationale to stress to our customers for selecting our services and products.

I’ve known many people who were unhappy in their careers because they never asked themselves why they were working in their field, why they were so miserable, and why they didn’t make a change. I’ve seen many businesses in my community come and go because they obviously didn’t ask themselves these questions either. In fact, at one point it became a game in our family to take bets on how many days it would be before a new and poorly-thought-out business closed its doors.

For example, at one time, a small, expensive pet boutique opened in my town. I gave it 90 days before it closed. I won the bet. It’s not that the concept of a pet boutique is a bad one. However, the person who owned the shop probably didn’t ask himself or herself why someone would buy their products in a community where people appear well off, but many live above their means AND one that also boasts at least four, national chain pet supply stores within 15 miles. 

In teaching a public speaking class the other day, we were discussing the importance of answering the question, “Why?” during our upcoming “How To” speeches. The purpose of the exercise is to give students the opportunity to teach the class how to do anything from making enchiladas to building a computer. I told the class that they can’t just tell people how things are done, but must also tell them why. Why? Because people are more willing and accepting of doing what we tell them when they understand the rationale behind our instruction or requests. I also advocated the age-old advice of asking, “Why?” five time to get to the real reason.

For example, a student gives a speech to introduce himself to the class. The student states that video games are a big part of his life.

Why are they so important? Because I like to play video games.

Why do you like to play video games? Because I play with my best friend.

Why do you play with him? Because he and I have been friends since we were five years old.

Why have you been friends so long? Because I can always count on him.

Why do you count on him? Because he’s stood by me through many bad times, including when my dad died.

Ah. . . now we get to the real reason playing video games are such a big part of his life. They give him the opportunity to spend time with someone he trusts and relies upon and someone who helped him through one of the most difficult times of his life.

Amazing what you can learn by just asking, “Why?”

Finally, asking ourselves, “Why?” when our work or personal relationships are unsuccessful can be important in identifying our role in the situation. When relationships don’t work out, the easiest thing to do is to blame the other person, or some external factor over which we have no control. However, when situations repeat and patterns emerge, we need to look to ourselves for answers, even if it involves  some uncomfortable soul searching and the answers we find might point uncomfortably toward ourselves.

Why am I able to attract talented people to my organization, but lose them shortly thereafter? 

Why does every interaction with my business partner turn into an argument?

Why can’t I trust my employees?

Why can’t I maintain anything but the most superficial of friendships?

Although asking, “Why?” can be annoying, challenging,  and can sometimes lead us to answers we don’t want to hear (or admit to ourselves), being smart and brave enough to ask the question will provide critical insights into ourselves and others.

The Ripple Effect of Helping Others

The other day I was facilitating a workshop for a group of attorneys on the subject of employee motivation.

We’d just finished discussing the importance of showing appreciation and giving praise, when we had a short break. During the break I mentioned my difficulty finding an artist to create a one-frame comic for the chapter about showing appreciation in my book, Practical Communication. I must have explained in pretty good detail the drawing I envisioned and the frustration, having worked with three different artists, of getting back drawings that were just not what I was looking for.

Thanks for the kidney cover graphic_borderI didn’t think much more about the conversation until I came home that evening and checked my email. In it was a note from one of the attorneys who attended the workshop. He thanked me for the training and expressed its value to him. He also shared his surprise that I couldn’t find anyone to draw my “vision” of the comic for my book– so he decided to give it a try.

Attached to the email I found a drawing that was just what I had been looking for. I was so appreciative and surprised that anyone, let alone someone who probably had better things to do with his time (and had so many letters after his name, none of which indicated “artist”), had taken the time to draw this picture for me.

The picture now proudly graces the cover of my eBooklet, “Thanks for the Kidney: A Guide for Providing Meaningful Appreciation”, with credit of course to the artist, Joe Lawson.

The fact that someone took the time to help me with a challenge I was facing, when I hadn’t even asked for help, was truly moving and inspiring.

I consider myself a fairly helpful person. I am a sounding-board for friends, communication mentor and coach, and I volunteer for several organizations. However, there are times when helping others can be inconvenient and time consuming, and it feels easier to ignore a request, make an excuse, or pretend not to see the obvious need for help. However, since this incident, I’ve found myself reminded of what a gift helping others can be to them and to the giver. I’ve focused on letting go of excuses, faced inconveniences, responded to more requests, and have been more alert to the possibility that others might need my help– even if they don’t ask.

This week, whether you’re asked or not, seek opportunities to help others when you can. You never know when a simple act of helping someone will cause a long-lasting, positive ripple effect in the world. You might not feel it right away, but as the ripples spread outward and impact others, they’re likely to bounce back to you in surprising and wonderful ways.

Is the Art of the Handwritten Letter Really Dead?

As January is a time for reflection on the past and planning for the future, I decided to go back through every blog post I’ve written since I began the Practical Communication Blog on May 31, 2011.

In reviewing where my blog began and thinking about where it’s going, I came across this particular post written in September 2012 and found it worth running again. About a week or so after it first ran, I received a “rich” feeling, thick envelope in the mail from my friend Patty. I was surprised, and remember thinking, “Is one of her children graduating already or getting married?”

I eagerly opened the envelope to see what important event prompted the posting of such beautiful stationary, only to find that it wasn’t an announcement of a family event, but a lovely, heart-felt, hand-written note. I won’t reveal her private correspondence, but to summarize, it said that she’d read my blog and wanted to send the letter to let me know how much she appreciated our friendship over the years.

I’ll never forget how I felt reading that letter and I will keep it forever. 

To understand what prompted her to send it, read on. If you weren’t a follower back then, enjoy. If you were, I hope it reminds you of the importance of such communication. 

 

Last summer, when my daughter was writing thank you notes for the high school graduation gifts she received, I was shocked to see that she was printing the notes.

When I asked why she wasn’t writing in cursive, she said she’d never really learned how. She was the victim of a time in our education system when apparently learning how to do something more than print or sign your name was determined to be unnecessary.

When I asked her what she was going to do someday if she had to write a letter to someone, she replied, “No one writes anymore. I’ll send a text or email.” I was dismayed and a little sad, but didn’t think much of it at the time.

I recently began thinking about this exchange when I was cleaning out my closet and came across a shoebox I’ve had for almost 25 years. In it, are notes, cards, and other handwritten items from when my husband and I were first married. After I got over how gushy we were, I wondered, “Will people do this anymore?” “Will they have a box of treasured cards, letters, sticky notes, and even messages on the back of receipts?”

What about that note with a little treat, placed lovingly in a child’s lunchbox that makes his or her day?

Or the handwritten note from a vendor, thanking you for your new business. Will the one-liner at the end of an invoice that reads, “Thank you for your business,” be the best we’ll get when we trust our business to someone else?

I can’t imagine printing out hard copies of emails with similar content.

The digital age has brought unimaginable speed and convenience to our communication. No more waiting days for letters to come across country or weeks for a letter from another continent. Our texts and emails arrive in seconds. And although I’m guilty of sending them myself and appreciate receiving an email note of love, friendship, appreciation, celebration, or condolance– it’s too easy.

A text that reads “10X”, thanks, for those of you over 40 and “142”, I love you, is nice, but does it compare to something you can hold in your hands?

For those of you who remember receiving something other than bills and junk mail in the mailbox, do you remember the thrill of waiting on the mail carrier to bring that cherished letter? Or the surprise while sitting at your desk and opening a handwritten note from a grateful client or vendor?

Imagine the smell of paper and ink, the feel of quality paper in your hands, the thrill of seeing the postmark and imagining the route the letter took to get to you. What about the exotic stamps you saved from far-away places?

The next time you plan to send an email, consider the impact of that electronic communication versus taking the time to actually put pen to paper and share your thoughts. When you’re just about to start typing that text, consider its the permanence and historical significance compared to a piece of paper saved in a box for 25 or 250 years?

As for my daughter, I think it’s time I remind her of “the mailbox.”

doll house

When she was 2-years-old, she received a dollhouse that had a little working mailbox attached to the right front porch rail. My husband started putting little notes in the mailbox, so that she would find them in the morning. They were just short notes written on 1 x 2 inch scraps of notebook paper,

“Have a good day today!”, or

“Good luck on your test!”

When she outgrew the dollhouse, we removed its front and mounted it on the wall so they could still use the mailbox. When even that became too childish, she replaced the mailbox with a magnetic board, where her father continued to place notes every morning until she graduated from high school.

To this day, she still has EVERY little note he ever left her- 16 years worth. I have the evidence stored in our fire safe where she insisted I put them when she went off to college.

I wonder if text messages would have meant as much?

20 Words and Phrases to Add to Your Vocabulary

“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”- Nathaniel Hawthorne

Many people underestimate the power of words to create their reality and to impact the reality of others.

Think about it. Remember the last time you said, “This is going to be the worst day ever!” Were you right? Did you create a self-fulfilling prophecy? The odds are, you were and you did.

In previous blog posts, I’ve shared five words to eliminate from your vocabulary, whimpy words that take away your personal power, and filler words to eliminate from your communication.

This week, I’d like to share 20 words and phrases to add to your vocabulary this year that will not only give you power in your everyday interactions, but will help create a positive impact on all your relationships.

1. No

2. I can

3. I will

4. I know (instead of I think, I believe, etc.)

5. Please

6. Thank you for. . .

7. You’re welcome

8. I disagree (instead of you’re wrong)

9. I’ll find out (instead of I don’t know)

10. You’re right

11.I’m sorry

12. How can I make this right?

13. I can help by _____ (provide specific things you’re willing to do and possibly to establish boundaries)

14. It’s my responsibility

15. What can I do for you?

16. Because (I need you to do this because…provide rationale to help build understanding and buy in)

17. My strengths are. . . (instead of sharing your flaws and weaknesses as many of us do)

18. Today, I accomplished. . .

19. Tomorrow, my number one goal is. . .

20. I will succeed because. . .

 

What other words or phrases would you add to this list?

7 Handshake Rules You Shouldn’t Break

This week, I’ve taught several “Business Impression” workshops. In these sessions we’ve discussed everything from dress and appearance to handshakes. I’d always thought that the clothing discussions would create the most buzz and controversy, but it turns out, there are a LOT of different opinions (and pet peeves) on the subject of handshakes. Therefore, I decided to re-run this blog post from 2012. I hope it helps everyone, but especially clarifies the concerns of those who attended my workshops this week!

Your handshake helps create a first impression to everyone to whom you offer it.

Within the mainstream U.S. business culture, the rules for handshakes are pretty straightforward and standard, but people often break them unknowingly. Additionally, before taking these rules overseas or across borders, keep in mind that handshake “rules” vary across cultures. Therefore, do your homework before interacting with those from other places in the world

To avoid appearing rude, wimpy, aggressive, or just plain gross, here are some tips for creating a positive and assertive first impression.

1. Know when to shake hands

At minimum, you should shake hands when:- Someone introduces him or herself to you- Someone introduces a third party to you- You introduce yourself to someone new- Ending a conversation or saying goodbye

2. Shake for no more than three “pumps”

A business handshake shouldn’t last more than two to three pumps or approximately three seconds. If you hold on too long, or pump too many times as if you’re trying to bring up water from a well, you can make people uncomfortable or appear anxious and unsure of yourself.

3. Shake from your elbow, not your shoulder

A handshake should be assertive, but not jarring to the other person. If you shake from your shoulder, using your entire arm, you can knock people off balance (or dislocate their arm). Shake from your elbow in a smooth, up and down motion.

4. Don’t use a “dead fish” or “wet fish” handshake

A handshake that is limp or too soft can convey weakness to the other party and puts you in a “one down” position. Additionally, if your hands tend to sweat, or you’ve just come from the gym, discreetly pat your hands on your slacks before extending your hand. Or if you can, go wash and dry your hands before approaching people.

5. Don’t use a “bone crusher” handshake

I shouldn’t walk away from your handshake unable to feel my fingers. A handshake isn’t the time to show someone else how strong you are. The bone crusher handshake, even if offered in return to a bone crusher handshake, is never appropriate and only serves to make you appear aggressive and unprofessional.

Spend a lot of time at the gym and don’t know your own strength? A good test of grip is to only use the force required to grab and turn an UNLOCKED door handle.

6. Don’t use the “little lady” handshake EVEN IF you’re a man shaking hands with a woman

The “little lady” handshake is that soft, fingertips-only handshake that can be offered by men or women. Men who offer this handshake to a female business associate send the message that they perceive her as female first, business associate second. In other words, it’s condescending, and most women I’ve talked to can’t stand this type of handshake! Women who offer this handshake to either a man or woman are likely to be perceived as weak and ineffective.

Forget what your parents taught you about a “polite” handshake; this is 2015, not 1900. Unless you’re shaking hands with someone’s great-great-grandma, or drinking mint juleps on the veranda at a debutante ball, grasp hands “web to web” using your entire hand.

7. Shake with one hand, not two

Unless you’re a politician who is perceived as standoffish, but is trying to “appear” more friendly and warm — don’t offer a two-handed handshake. Use only your right hand. If you use two hands, you may convey to the other party that you’re trying too hard, or you might make them uncomfortable by being too personal.

 

Do you have any other handshake tips you’d add to this list? Let me know!

 

Five Steps for Turning Resolutions Into Reality

Last week, readers offered some great communication-related resolutions for 2015. Many of us make resolutions as the new year begins, but how many of us can honestly say, at the end of that year, that we accomplished all we resolved to do? Based on my personal experience and research, the answer is: not many!

There are many factors that determine whether a person will be successful in achieving a resolution. If I were to try to list them all, you’d probably stop reading right here. However, there are some simple steps that are likely to greatly increase the odds that you will succeed in achieving your resolutions in 2015.

Five steps for turning your resolutions into reality.


1. Stop all the wantin’, wishin’, and dreamin’ and get specific.
Instead of saying you “want to be a better communicator,” “wish to be more successful”, or “hope for better health”,  define exactly what that means and state it as a fact. “I will increase my income by 20% by June 15, 2015,” is a much better resolution than just saying you want to make more money.

2. Be realistic. Unless you win the lottery, you’re not likely to increase your income by $1 million in the first quarter of 2015, nor are you likely to lose 100 pounds in that time frame. Set challenging goals, but not impossible ones. Do your homework, know yourself and your situation, and create your own individual plan. Additionally, be realistic with how many resolutions you make. If your resolution list is 10 deep, what are the odds you’re going to make it all happen?

3. Break your resolution into single, manageable tasks. If your goal is to start a business, what are all the steps you’ll need to take to do so? When you think you have all the steps, show your list to someone else (preferably someone experienced with that process) to see if you’re missing anything. Additionally, you should look at each step and see if can be further broken down. For example, “website development” is actually more than one task, as it involves (1) identifying what to look for in a web developer, (2) researching web developers themselves, (3) contacting web developers, (4) contacting developer references, and more.

4. Set specific dates and deadlines for your activities. It’s very easy to put something off if there’s no deadline for accomplishing it. Once you have all the steps identified to achieve your resolution, put a deadline to each one and stick to it. If your deadline is to lose weight by going to the gym three times a week, identify a start date AND the three days you’ll go each week and put them on your calendar.

5. Be accountable. I’m realistic enough to know that when you set dates for all your activities, some may have to slip. That being said, letting too many slip, or re-adjusting resolutions too much, can be a recipe for failure. For example, if you’ve decided to lose five pounds per month and in the first two months you only lose five pounds total, you have two choices, make up for the missing pounds or adjust your goal. However, before you give up and change the goal to 2.5 lbs per month, consider where that will put you at the end of the year. Also ask yourself, “Is this really the best I can do?” and do some soul searching as to whether you’re really committed to achieving your goal. Brutally scrutinize your reasons for slipping up. Are they legitimate, or are you making excuses? Finally, if you need support, find an “accountability partner” who will check in with you periodically to help monitor your progress and help keep you motivated and accountable.

 

Believe in yourself, create a realistic and specific plan, and stick to it, and I know that 2015 will be the year your resolutions become a reality!

Top 10 Communication Resolutions for 2015

Every year, many people resolve to make the coming year their “best ever” by making resolutions for better behavior.

The most common resolutions include losing weight, exercising, stopping bad habits (smoking, sugar, etc.), getting a better job, etc. As this is a communication blog, over the past few weeks I’ve been collecting reader-submitted suggestions for resolutions with a communication theme. The challenge? Submitting a communication resolution in just one sentence.

Here are our top communication resolutions for 2015.

1. To talk instead of text whenever possible. Lydia L.

2. Not to use the phrase, “I don’t care.” Lisa B.

3. To eliminate, “I’ll try,” from my vocabulary. (My own submission)

4. To stop using discounting [qualifying] statements, “You did a great job, but. . .” Stephanie W.

5. To be more open minded and ask questions, instead of shutting people down when they’re “wrong”. Carla B.

6. To eliminate  [vocalized pauses, such as] um, uh, like, etc., from my speaking. Nicole C.

7. To take the advice of one of the previous blogs to say “Thank You” more often. Roger R.

8. To put away my phone when someone is speaking to me face-to-face. Kelly T.

9. To stop talking so da[rn] much, shut my mouth and listen to people. Lisa D.

10. To give more positive feedback to my kids, spouse, and coworkers. Dan D. 

 

Need help deciding on or implementing your 2015 communication resolutions? Check out my book, “Practical Communication: 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting and Getting Things Done” or subscribe to my 30-day video program, “Communication Skills for Career Success.” Although the video program’s title is business focused, the content is equally applicable to communicating at home and in your community.

Finally, be sure to check out next week’s blog, where I’ll share tips on how to turn your resolutions into reality.

Three Tips for Responding to Unsolicited Advice

Last week, I targeted advice givers and provided tips for offering advice in a way that makes it more palatable to the receiver. However, I know that not every advice giver reads my blog and even those who do will struggle to keep their opinions to themselves. Therefore, I thought I should follow-up this week with some tips for those who find themselves on the receiving end of unsolicited advice and want to handle it effectively.

Before you decide how to respond to the unsolicited advice, ask yourself a few questions to analyze the advice:

Is the advice giver qualified to offer the advice? A person who has the experience or expertise in their advice topic is more credible, and one I’ll be more likely to accept advice from, than someone who has no knowledge or expertise on a topic and is just sharing random opinions.

What’s the advice giver’s motivation? You may not know exactly, but sometimes you can tell based on the person’s delivery, or your past experience with him or her, what the motivation is for offering the advice. If the motivation is positive, such as wanting to help you save time.

Have you heard the same advice before? If you hear some advice once, you may be able to chalk it up to one person’s opinion. However, if you’ve heard the advice from multiple sources, especially qualified ones with positive motivations, the advice just might be something it’s time for you to consider.

Is the advice valid/factual, or just opinion? No matter the source, sometimes advice is just flat-out correct, even if we don’t want to hear it. Such as last week’s example of the right and wrong way to install a car seat. Other times though, the advice is simply based on an opinion, and as such, you’re under no obligation to follow it.

Is the advice timely, or is the advisor a “Monday Morning Quarterback”? Some people have a habit of not offering their input and advice beforehand, but freely offer it after the fact. In many such cases, even if the advice is good, it’s too late to put it into action. In other instances, it’s not advice, but criticism disguised as advice, and is equally useless.

What are the consequences of taking, or not taking, the advice? There are consequences for every action and inaction. Even if you don’t agree with the advice, it’s worth looking at the consequences of ignoring it or taking it. Will you lose a friend? Lose your job? Consider these factors when determining how you’ll respond to advice.

Once you’ve asked yourself the questions above, you have some decisions to make as to how to proceed. Here are some options:

1. Thank the person for the advice and put it into action. If the advice is legitimate and will make your life better, thank the person for it and do what he or she said.

2. Acknowledge receipt of  the advice, then ignore it. I know this sounds harsh, but just because someone offers the advice, doesn’t mean you have to take it. You can say:

“Thank you. I’ll definitely consider that”, 

“I’m glad that worked for you,” 

“That certainly is an option,”

“That’s a thought,” or

“You may be right,” 

then walk away and continue doing what you’ve been doing. Each of the responses above let’s the advisor know that you’ve heard the advice, but doesn’t indicate a commitment to put the advice into action.

3. Acknowledge the advice, then let the advisor know you won’t be putting the advice into play. If you want to make it clear to the other person that you’ve received the advice, but aren’t going to take it, you can say,

“I appreciate you wanting to help. However, I’m comfortable with the way I’m doing X.” 

“That’s a good idea, but I think my plan will work just as well. Since I’ve already started, I think I’ll just continue and finish up.”

“I’m sorry you’re unhappy, but I asked for your input beforehand and you didn’t provide any. Therefore, I’m going forward with my plan.”

4. Let the person know you’re not interested in any advice, and if necessary, ask that he or she not offer it again. As a last resort, after considering the advice and it’s source, you are perfectly within your rights to not only reject advice, but ask that the person not offer any again. If you choose this option, be sure to respond calmly, firmly, kindly, and without sarcasm!

“Thank you, but I don’t need advice. I’ve already thoroughly researched what I’m doing and have a plan for moving forward.”

“Thanks. If I need help or any advice, I’ll be sure to come see you.”  

“I understand you’re trying to help, but I’m comfortable with the way I’m doing X.  I’d rather not talk about other options again.”

 

 

Finally, remember, if you ASK for advice you have a responsibility to give it especially careful consideration. If you decide not to take the advice, be sure to acknowledge the advice and explain to the advisor your rationale for taking alternative action. Doing so will help maintain your relationship and will increase the odds that the person will be willing to offer help in the future.