Workplace Advice: You Should Not Say “You Should”

Getting a Grip - Personal workplace advice from Handshake 2.0Dear Getting a Grip:

When I’m talking with individuals from other companies at networking events or conferences, someone invariably interjects, “You know, what you should do is…”

That person knows more about my business than I do? That person is privy to my corporate vision and knows the strategies I have used and plan to use to achieve it? Are you kidding me?! Unsolicited advice is getting so common in business conversations these days that I have thought about timing how long it takes for “You should…” to appear. Is there anything I can do to stop this irritating, tedious practice?

Dear You Should:  

Advice-giving is about power.  No matter the claim or intention – “I was just trying to help,” or “I thought you would want to do that better/right,” or “I know this, you don’t, you need to know it, what’s the problem?” – or even if the advice is correct: “You should get help with that drinking problem” – the advice-giver attempts to assume a position of one-up superiority and to move the advice receiver to a one-down position of inferiority.

Why?  When one person attempts to wield power over another person, whether with advice or a two-by-four, the act is usually based on what having power will mean to the person attempting to wield it, or fear of what the other person will feel, think, say or do if they don’t.

Needing power over others to feel personally and professionally valuable and effective is, frankly, a tragically precarious way to live.  What one seeks is power.  Ironically, what results is giving power to others to determine that very sense of power.  If people aren’t complying, then one’s value isn’t confirmed.  Increasing pressure on others to comply increases the distance they keep.  Advice-givers often end up like The Farmer in the Dell’s cheese – standing alone.

Getting a Grip

Given the power-based and hierarchical nature of most corporations and the competitive nature of capitalism, unsolicited advice-givers in business will always be with us.  Make a strategic decision about the advice-giver’s overall value to you and your business.  Limit contact if the value is limited.  Deflect unsolicited advice with a “Thanks” and change the subject.

If the person merits it, make a straightforward request:  “I’d like to work with you as colleagues.  I feel disrespected when you give me unsolicited advice.  I’d like to request that you give me advice when I ask for it, or, if you have a suggestion, please offer it as such.”  If they respond, great.  If not, you can choose the “limit contact” option, or you can choose to tolerate an advice-giver, knowing that the advice originates not from your need to receive it, but from their need to give it.


Need to start “Getting a Grip” on a personal problem at work?  Need workplace advice?  E-mail your question to [email protected].

Getting a Grip, a workplace advice column, is written by Anne Giles Clelland. Getting a Grip  regrets that not all questions can be answered, personal replies are not possible, and questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Anne's Giles Clelland's workplace advice column appears monthly in Valley Business FRONT.  A version of this column appeared in the October 2010 issue.

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