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Unwanted advice rankles

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Dear Village Pickle,
I would like to solicit your advice about unsolicited advice. My family is full of suggestions — from how to parent to how to run my business. I know they are well-intentioned, and there is the occasional nugget of wisdom, but it drives me crazy! The business advice is especially irksome, since none of them have experience in or know much about my line of work. How do I keep the peace without having to listen to them saying their piece?
—Not Soliciting

Dear Not Soliciting,
Isn’t it remarkable how family members are able to push our buttons with laser-like precision? Qualities or behaviors that we tolerate or sometimes don’t even notice in friends and colleagues become insufferable in a sibling or parent.

The bad news about life is that we can’t actually change anybody else’s behavior, so I suggest you consider why this bothers you so much. Do you feel like the underlying implication of said advice is that you are incompetent as a parent or business owner? Is it a residual reaction against being bossed around as a child? Does it annoy you because there are about a million and one things you could tell them how to do, but you don’t?

Answering this question will help to determine what you should do next. I highly recommend saying something to the offending family members, but that depends on how close you are to your family and your willingness to be vulnerable to them. If you’re up for that, something like this should work: “I know you’re trying to be helpful, but when you give me advice about my job it makes me feel like you think I’m not good at it.” If that’s not a conversation you’re interested in having, your only other direct recourse is sarcasm (“Thanks for your ‘expert advice’ on child­rearing.”), which is cowardly and decidedly not constructive.

If you don’t want to do the heart-to-heart, develop a strategy for redirecting both the conversation and your reaction to it. Internally, this means understanding why exactly this is so annoying and developing something like a mantra to forestall irritation. Sometimes an image or a metaphor can be particularly helpful.

Outwardly, this means having one or two conversational sidesteps you can easily employ and repeat as needed.

Family member with no kids: “You know, you should really consider enrolling Babykins in art classes. It’s good for their motor development.”

You: “Thanks, I’ll think about it. So, how’s Aunt Judith?”

Family member: “I think ‘Sherlock’ fan fiction would do wonders for your publishing company.”

You: “Thanks, I’ll think about it. So, how’s Uncle Earl?”

While this doesn’t completely eliminate the advice-giving, it should mitigate its effect on you and the space it takes up in the conversation. I wish you many conversations empty of advice and filled with family gossip!

—The Village Pickle

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