Friendly Advice

Mike McGough
January 2020

From time to time you, like most people, someone offers you some words of friendly advice. It often comes on the heels of a phrase like, “I thought you ought to know. . .” or “I just felt the need to tell you that . . .” Some of this advice is sincere, and some of it isn’t. Some friendly advice is intended to help, support, and make you aware, while others is motivated by the giver’s desire to hurt, demean, belittle, embarrass, or get even. Thus, some the friendly advice you receive is good and should be thoughtfully considered, and some is useless and not worth your time. To keep them in perspective, knowing the difference is essential.

Determining what advice is worth your time and what isn’t can be difficult. There are no hard and fast rules for screening friendly advice. There is a simple and personal rule of thumb that does provide a valuable starting point when considering the potential merit of friendly advice. "Always seek to know who you are and be true to yourself in all that you say, do, and think."

Throughout life you go through a number of changes. You mature and grow physically, intellectually, emotionally, and socially. Various stages of life bring changes that are easily recognized and somewhat predictable. Others aren’t. They’re unpredictable, and they can be difficult to recognize. Some individual transitions are self-motivated, while others aren’t. When reacting to friendly advice, making the most of evidence, and working from positive motives is essential. Some examples illustrate this point.

A close friend tells you she's noticed that you’ve become increasingly impatient over the last few months. She says you need to calm down a bit. You initially deny it, telling her she's imagining things. But later, when you give her words some serious thought, you recall that someone at work recently told you the same things. Your significant other mentioned similar concerns a time or two, and you'd even become aware that little things were getting on your nerves. With that much evidence, you conclude that there's a good chance that you’re not as patient as you once were. So, you look for some reasons why, and begin planning strategies aimed at improving your patience level. In time you succeed, and the result is positive.

However, because someone tells you something and calls it advice, doesn’t necessarily make it so. For example, a co-worker says you've become arrogant and overly assertive, pointing out that, “You used to be easier to work with!" Their advice is that, “You need to be more like you used to be.”

Once you begin dealing with the initial hurt and anger, you find yourself in a how-do-I-fix-this state of mind. Even though you don’t agree with what you've been told, and you can't recall anyone else seeing you this way, you nonetheless decide you've got to change. With good intentions you work to dispel one person’s notion that you’ve become arrogant or assertive. It isn’t until later that you learn that the person who offered this friendly advice also applied for the promotion to shift supervisor that you were recently given.

Even though people deny it from time to time, most people have a desire to get along. That aspiration can cause you to react to comments, suggestions, and advice whether it's on target or not. In the first example there was enough evidence to consider a change. In the second example there wasn't, but the desire to get along could easily have led to some change, that may well have compromised the shift supervisor’s ability to fulfill his responsibilities.

Properly motivated change that is true to who you are, generally enhances you as an individual, improves your wellbeing, and refines your interpersonal skills. Poorly motivated change, particularly change backed by insufficient cause or reason, can quickly frustrate you, weaken your self-esteem, and complicate your interpersonal relationships. Such changes also pare away at who you really are. If done often or long enough, there is little left of who you are really intended to be. You are left a somewhat nondescript soul waiting on the next advice suggesting that you need to change.

Nobody's perfect, and from time to time everyone needs to change. When you consider a change, make certain that your decision is based on sound motives allowing you to remain true to yourself. Before you react to someone's suggestion to change who you are, look for tangible, reasonable, and observable evidence. Consider following the duck rule. Simply stated that rule holds that, “If it's yellow, has a bill, waddles, has webbed feet, and quacks, chances are good it’s a duck. But if it's just yellow, don't assume it's a duck; it may be a lemon.”