Is it ever right to tell someone something they don’t want to hear?
I was in the supermarket on Friday with my youngest boy. It’s his treat day. He gets to choose a Lego mini-figure (and he’s more than a little obsessed with Lego).
So there we are. He’s fingering all the packets to make sure he gets exactly what he wants. I’m reading the books and trying not to lose patience with the time he’s taking.
The scenario emerges…
And next to us a conversation strikes up. A little girl, probably around 5 years old. With someone I guess is her grandmother.
They’re debating whether she can have the Lego princess set she clearly desperately wants. Grandma tries to talk her out of it…
“But what will you do with it once you’ve built it?”
Grandma is holding a CD of a boy band that she thinks the girl will enjoy more.
My youngest and I exchange rueful looks.
“I’ll play with it.” she replies with a forlorn look. Even at five she can see the way this conversation is going to turn out.
Now my guy plays with his Lego for hours and hours. He creates whole worlds. Battles usually. He obsesses and looks up ideas on YouTube. He creates and re-creates.
So I know that it’s pretty likely that this little girl will get continuing hours of enjoyment from her Lego. It isn’t just about making it. It really is about playing with it – just like she said.
Do I say anything?
I am desperate to interrupt and give my opinion. But I don’t. I keep quiet. It isn’t really my business.
Eventually they walk off.
“How did that turn out?” I ask my guy.
“Oh the grandma went on so much that she persuaded the girl to get the CD.” A pause. “But mum,” he says “she WOULD have played with it!”
“I know” I commiserate. Both of us wanted to say something. But the moment has passed. And I guess we couldn’t find the right words. Or even know whether it was appropriate to say anything.
So what was the right thing to do here?
Am I being coloured by my experience with my child? He would have got hours more fun from the Lego than the CD. But of course, he isn’t everyone.
Maybe grandma did know best?
Do you ever give unsolicited advice? Or get asked for advice?
This scenario, or similar, comes up a lot when we coach and mentor other people. Or simply in our day to day conversation. When we’re asked for advice, we want to give it. We want to share our opinions. Help people make the right choices.
We think we know best.
I remember a conversation with a new client I had a couple of years ago. He’d managed to get some time with a hot shot businessman. A self-made millionaire. Who gave him a lot of advice about what he should be doing. He told me all of these grand plans. But I could see his heart wasn’t in it. He was never going to implement someone else’s advice. Either the advice or the timing of it was wrong.
It’s a natural instinct to want to share our experience. To want to help people make the “best” choices. And it isn’t always easy to remember that our experience isn’t going to be everyone’s experience.
And I know that no matter how frustrating it might be, if I offer someone advice on their business that they aren’t ready for, then it won’t help them. And worse – it might even delay or prevent them from making what is the right choice for them. Sometimes, we just have to let people make their own mistakes. Learn from their own experience.
Do you agree?
What do you think?
Is it better to let people come to their own conclusions? And how can we intervene without seeming inappropriate. How can we offer choices without influencing?
Was I right to stay quiet?
What would you have done? How do you react when you see someone making what you think is a mistake? I’d love you to leave a comment and let me know!