Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Unsolicited Advice

A few days ago one of the officers at my command stopped by and asked me about getting a Masters Degree via distance learning from Naval Postgraduate School.  I walked her through all the ins and outs, the advantages and disadvantages.  We talked for a solid 30 minutes about NPS.  It was probably the most enjoyable conversation I had that day because I felt like I had something to offer her and that she listened to what I had to say.  Even if she doesn't pursue the degree, at least she legitimately heard me out.

About a month ago I had an almost polar opposite experience.  I had a young man complain about how high his electric bill was, something that isn't uncommon in Hawaii.  Feeling like I could help him, I asked if he had a cable box, which he told me he did.  I gave him my advice about unplugging his box at the end of the day to help cut his electrical costs (advice that is now two years old, in case he ever Googled it).  Straight to my face, he told me "That won't work."

Huh?  Our conversation ended soon after, but I was insulted on so many levels:

- First, I'm an electrical engineer.  I actually studied this sort of thing, and someone without that sort of training has the nerve to tell me I'm wrong??
- Second, I actually DID it, and it worked.
- Third, I tried to give good advice and help someone save money.  How often does that happen, and why on earth would you turn down that help (I wish people gave me good money saving advice!!)

It actually bugged me enough that I sat down and really thought hard about what had happened.  Eventually it clicked.  People who want to complain will complain even if you give them a solution.

It seems so obvious, but yet I (and many others) have fallen into this trap countless times.  How many times do we hear a particular woman complain that there aren't any "good men" out there to date?  Or here the same guy complain that "all women are thieves."?  Or a particular Sailor tell you how the Navy sucks and its a terrible place to be?  And how many of us argue with that person to no avail in the end?

I had a young lady in college that always whined about men.  She dated horrible losers, and at one point both of us were single.  I tried asking her, got "friend-zoned," then she proceeded to complain about men AGAIN!  Finally I told her "Well, if you made better choices, you'd probably discover men that were worth dating."  She didn't like that, so she stopped complaining to me.  She was still single when we graduated.

The point is, complainers are going to complain about the situation.  It's one thing to complain a bit.  That's only human.  But perpetual complaining is fairly unhealthy, and not only that it drives everyone nuts, particularly those who are programmed to fix problems.  Even worse, when someone tries to help a complainer and is rebuffed, they come across feeling doubly angry for both the rebuff and having had to listen to the complaint.

So I'm making a deal with myself.  Besides this blog, I'm going to give up giving unsolicited advice, with the one exception being this blog.  If someone asks for help, I'll go all out for them, but if they won't ask for help, I'll kindly keep my mouth shut.  Obviously some circumstances (e.g. someone on the side of the road with a flat tire) I'll break that rule, but I'm not going to spout off advice, and most certainly not to complainers.  What I'm hoping will happen is that I'll spend more time listening and when I do give advice, it'll be useful and the person on the other end will want to hear it.

My second deal is that I'm done tolerating complainers, and I ask everyone reading this to do the same.  Complainers sap the energy out of conversations.  These perpetual whiners need to stop, and they need to get feedback that people don't appreciate their complaints.  I'll be polite, but if someone is going to whine about the Navy for more than 5 minutes, I better hear some solutions in that conversation, or else I'm tuning it out.

I'll let you know how these deals pan out over the next month.