Giving unsolicited advice
Over the past few years, as my work has become more international, maintaining open communication through feedback has become an integral part of our collaborative efforts and personal growth.
Reflecting on my previous job experiences, I have witnessed significant advancements in soft skills and the availability of tools, resources, and training related to feedback in today's workplace.
In essence, these resources primarily focus on helping us become better at both receiving and giving feedback. They emphasize using empathy to understand others' perspectives, cultivating a receptive mindset, and embracing feedback as a valuable learning opportunity.
In the context of providing feedback, one specific aspect I'd like to discuss in this post is offering unsolicited advice.
Ask before offering
During the training and workshops I've attended, I've discovered a simple yet effective technique: asking before offering advice. It's crucial to understand whether our input will be welcomed or not.
In this particular environment, we refer to solicited advice, where someone actively seeks recommendations, feedback, or guidance from others.
By establishing a culture of seeking permission before giving advice, we create a more receptive and safe space for sharing feedback, recommendations, or comments.
Respecting the importance of timing, I am driven to evaluate the relevance of my comments before sharing them, especially when someone explicitly declines feedback. By recognizing the boundaries and respecting their decision, I ensure that my input remains impactful and meaningful in every interaction.
For the very same reason, I try to assess if I have enough context, and if I have earned their trust to share my thoughts. I aim to provide useful insights that may not be obvious and avoid unnecessary noise.
Valuable unsolicited advice
However, sometimes, advice just comes naturally.
While finding the right balance can be challenging, I believe in the value of allowing people to learn from their mistakes. That's why I frequently share my experiences, offering advice to help others to learn from my own missteps and avoid potential pitfalls.
Similarly, providing context or ensuring others understand the situation is important when offering advice. While I may not directly provide instructions, I informally share relevant information that I believe the other person may not be aware of.
Even though asking for permission is good, there are instances when unsolicited advice can still be valuable.
As a simple example of these situations, I once received unsolicited feedback after a presentation. I was approached and informed that my presentations had too much text, making it difficult for the audience to read and comprehend the content. Although I hadn't specifically asked for feedback at that moment, it was valuable information as it highlighted the accessibility issues in my presentation.
The effectiveness of such advice depends on the environment and can be challenging to navigate, but it can also be highly valuable.
Confidence plays a crucial role in these interactions, as trust takes time to build but can be turned down in seconds. Valuable advice can come from strangers, so it's important to consider their permission and boundaries.
As I have learned in the book called “The Staff Engineer's Path: A Guide for Individual Contributors Navigating Growth and Change”, If you have advice to share but can't find the right moment or space, consider alternative channels such as writing a blog post or expressing your thoughts on social media.
Remember we are all biased
Sharing perspectives is often contextual. Therefore, when offering advice or suggestions on how to proceed, it’s vital to ensure there is a consensus about expectations.
What may seem normal and common from our perspective might be viewed differently by others. Behaviors and feelings can vary, so finding common ground and using a shared language can provide a better starting point.
Don't normalize an unhealthy environment
Likewise, even if our observations seem unrelated to the topic at hand, there may be instances where a colleague is normalizing a behavior that is harmful in the long run.
If you witness someone experiencing harassment, feeling burdened by misunderstandings, or overwhelmed with work-related stress, don't hesitate to take action. Stand up as their ally and offer others a broader perspective and context surrounding the situation. Your voice can make a difference in creating a supportive and understanding environment.
Let them know that they deserve better and that such treatment shouldn’t be accepted.