Sunday, April 27, 2014

Don't Tell Me What To Do!

Countless people have been giving me unsolicited advice lately.  The conversations always start with a genuine concern about how my life is going these days or how my job search is panning out, and I appreciate it. I really do.  What I don't appreciate, however, is the part when the conversations turn from concern to instruction. It's the part when the person is talking at me, rather than with me.

What are the indicators of at-me talking?
  • The same questions are asked repeatedly.
  • "If I were you" is a commonly-used phrase.
  •  No active listening is happening.
But I'm used to this.  I'm used to listening to people go on and on about the decisions they think I should make in life.  Several years ago, a co-worker came into my office and told me I was beautiful, but that I needed to dress sexier and that I should let her pick out new clothes for me. A middle-aged man sitting next to me on a plane once rattled off a list of ways I should change my personality, and that was only after about three minutes of conversation on my part. In an effort to help me with job interviews, a friend of a friend suggested that I use "I" more in conversation -- "I did this," and "I solved this."  These are just a few examples, but I could go on for days and days.*

Why does this happen to me?  Why do people tell me what to do?  I used to jokingly say that I must have a sign on my forehead that said just that: "Tell me what to do!"

And you know what?  I think I do have such a sign.  But it's not a sign on my forehead; it's a sign on my personality.  I'm quiet most of the time.  Sure, I can carry on a conversation with the best of them, but typically, I like to listen in conversation.  I am extremely opinionated about the nothings of life -- such as what flour to use in baking and what Motown singer has the best voice -- but when it comes to the precious and the delicate somethings, I tend to reserve my thoughts. And despite what some of my friends think, I do not lean heavily toward extraversion. Instead, I am slightly more introverted, preferring to study alone, recharge alone, and work in silence.

In a country that values noise, egoism, and extraversion, I just don't quite fit.** Quiet reserve is the sign that says to people, "Tell me what to do!" and I don't think that's right, especially when you care about someone and they have given you no reason to think they often make poor life choices.

But that's not really the point of my post.  The point of my post is to tell you that after all these moments of unsolicited advice -- or incorrect judgment -- I have realized the huge error in telling people what they should do, when they haven't actually asked me what I think they should do. I'll grant that there are exceptions, but generally, I go about life assuming people are at least as smart as me -- that they've considered multiple sides to a situation and that they've thought things through.

*For the record, I thought my co-worker dressed inappropriately for the office; the man on the plane was an obnoxious jerk; and the friend of a friend sounded a tad arrogant when he spoke about his own work experience.
**Susan Cain writes about some of this in her recent book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.  (Watch her TED Talk, The Power of Introverts.)

Thing I'm thankful for: mom and pops.


Anonymous Kevin said...

As I was reading, I thought, "Oh, there's a book about...oh you already know about it." If you haven't read Quiet and have only seen the TED talk, I'd highly recommend the book as well. It helped me appreciate how others perceive things, and understand more about the extent to which it can be different.

12:06 PM  
Blogger cardlady said...

Love you Chickadee, just the wsy you are! And we're glad to help.

2:58 PM  

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