“Lukas, it’s nice you are wearing a white shirt…” I saw that curious eyes of everyone in the room were on me. “It is unfortunate, however, that…”
Ever wanted to answer: “Yeah, why don’t you keep it to yourself?”
Friday, 23:30. Time for bed. I checked my phone for the last time. Ha! Email from my friend Ryan! I had not heard from him for a few weeks.
Subject: Buried Lead.
Ryan has a webpage and a newsletter where he promotes various unorthodox language learning techniques. I guessed this was one of them. I should not be reading emails just before going to sleep, but the subject was too intriguing for me not to check. I opened it.
It turned out the email was for me. Ryan was giving me a suggestion about the blog post I published on that day. The “Buried Lead” was this:
“I took a breath and with the words “Bylo-li u vas takoe…” I said the opening sentence of my speech. I pronounced the last word of the sentence and then… “
According to Ryan, this would have caught any readers’ interest. If only it were not buried deep down in the text of my post. I got the point. Next time, I would need to do my opening differently.
What did not let me go back to bed however was the last line of Ryan’s email: “And THAT is my unsolicited advice for the day. Ta da!”
“Yeah”, I think. “Those morons! I have a fair share of experience with those…”
A bearded guy in his mid-forties whose name I don’t remember. At a conference in Warsaw, after I finished a workshop on teamwork, a couple of people stopped to pat me on the back and say: “Great presentation Lukas!” Then this bearded guy came to me and said, with his left eyebrow raised: “Your white slides are blinding me. Try to use black background with white text instead.” In 10 second he managed to erase any feelings of accomplishment from that day.
Or Ondrej, the self-proclaimed style advisor. I will never forget the evening when he took the stage in one of our Prague Business Toastmaster meetings and gave everyone feedback on their outfits. Finally, he turned to me: “Lukas, it’s nice you are wearing a white shirt…” I saw that eyes of everyone in the room shifted to me. “It is unfortunate, however, that it is not one, not two, but three sizes too big!” The room roared with laughter. I hated Ondrej ever since.
Or Stepan “the Just”, who prided himself of always saying what he thought, without any embellishments. A few years ago, during a lunch break at a conference in Bratislava, he sat next to me at a table for six. While I was reading through the menu, he looked at me and said: “Lukas, now when I’m sitting this close to you, there is something I have not noticed before.” I could not believe what happened next. He put his hand on my belly, looked me in the eyes and said: “You’re growing a belly! Maybe you should have something less caloric today!” The other four people at the table turned their faces away in attempt not to be included in this awkward exchange. The surprise prevented me from doing anything else than staring at Stepan in disbelief while he shrugged his shoulders and started reading in his own menu like nothing happened.
Yeah, how would you call those three? Socially inept? Morons? Or something else?
Before you jump to any conclusions, here are a few lines on our ability to receive feedback from Robert Greene’s book Mastery:
“People are increasingly reluctant to tell each other the truth about themselves – their weaknesses, their inadequacies, flaws in their work. Even the self-help books designed to set us straight tend to be soft and flattering, telling us what we want to hear – that we are basically good and can get what we want by following a few simple steps.”
This means that in fact, for most people it is easier to tell you what you want to hear. By mentioning something we should fix, they risk upsetting us. Should they?
“In fact, this indulgence and fear of hurting people’s feelings is far more abusive in the long run. It makes it hard for people to gauge where they are or to develop self-discipline. It makes them unsuited for the rigors of the journey to mastery. It weakens people’s will.”
From this perspective, the bearded guy’s, Ondrej’s and Stepan’s feedback should have been a blessing for me. Were they?
The bearded guy erased my feelings of accomplishment after a presentation. But he made me switch to white font on black background. I used that format ever since.
Ondrej’s comment about my shirt made me turn red and gave my ego a blow on that evening. But on the next day, I went shopping for a set of tighter shirts.
Stepan’s assessment of my fitness in Bratislava created a socially awkward situation. But upon my arrival back to Prague it made me resume my regular running and spinning schedule.
Unsolicited advice made me feel uncomfortable – but also prodded me to take action. That action led to improvement.
Therefore, my suggestion how to deal with the person who gives you unsolicited advice: Thank them. Praise them. Get them a drink. Most importantly, keep them around. It is way more comfortable to tell someone “Good job” or “You look great!”.
If there is someone, who is ready to hold up an unflattering mirror to you: Keep them close. The next thing they tell you might change your life.
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