10 Important Insights About Suggestions, Criticisms, And Micromanaging
The Phone Conversation:
I was talking on the phone with a friend. The more we talked the more anxious I became. I don’t usually feel anxious, yet there it was. I also began to notice anger and frustration. What was going on to inspire such feelings? She was making suggestions: giving me advice, offering ideas, solutions and recommendations. I’m sure she was endeavoring to help. Yet as the conversation progressed, I grew more and more impatient…kind of an eye-rolling impatience!!
Surprisingly, I suddenly realized that sometimes when I speak to my daughter, and give her advice, she says, ”You are making me feel anxious!” Hmmm!
If we are dedicated to “do no harm,” why is giving a suggestion such a prompt for discomfort?
Here is what I have explored:
Suggestions As Veiled Criticisms:
“Do you think suggestions are criticisms?” I asked another friend. “
She said “Yes, suggestions ARE criticisms!”
I pondered…what if a “You should do it this way” comment was actually judgmental intolerance. Like if I said, “ You would be much smarter if you studied harder.” How would that make the person feel? Or “Why don’t you wear a dress that is not so tight.”
Offering “helpful hints” is quite an Art.
Here are some insights I wish to share with you.
1. Everyone knows everything…except when they don’t want to know
When dolling out advise we risk telling someone everything they already know. That adds to that eye-rolling frustration. Are they asking for help or do they just want you to listen? We forget that people are smart…humans are smart…that is how we have survived. Yet, denial is the first line of defense. We may not be ready to accept something. Being told what we are not ready to hear may be more harmful than helpful.
2. Oh my, micromanaging
In highly personal relationships micromanaging can arise. Micromanagement refers to exerting excessive control over a person or a situation. This can occur within a social context, at work, or even in relationships. It is a kind of critical/suggestion making that is continuous and may disguise itself as “ helpful.” If we are constantly telling another person how to direct their life, we may be trying to control them in order for us to feel safe. Back seat driving is a great example of this impulse to micromanage! Ask many married couples!
3. The fix-it impulse
Why do we have such a strong impulse to jump in and offer solutions anyway? For one thing, listening can be painful! Much of our fix-it, knee-jerk reaction is due to our own discomfort. We have difficulty staying with uncomfortable feelings…our own as well as someone else’s. Wishing to be helpful might actually spring from our own sense of helplessness. On top of that, we may think “bad feelings” should be avoided at all costs. But always being positive can eclipse truth. Uncomfortable feelings are filled with Wisdom if we are willing to sense and explore them. Offering a suggestion might be putting a band-aid on a wound that actually requires something else. That something else is compassion and understanding. It allows the wisdom inherent in a feeling to arise and be known. When someone is suffering, complaining, or lost in some way, sympathy with understanding is a kindhearted choice. Being heard and understood is beneficial to problem solving. Being an observer for is a powerful tool for the struggle to unravel.
4. Boundaries and dirty feet
But what about us? What if the person with the problem is going on and on with more and more negativity, and it is making us feel very uncomfortable? A good listener also checks into their own feelings. Boundaries need to be safe in an open discussion. They may be invading your psyche!
There is a famous quote by Gandhi that illustrates this:
“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”
If the person talking is “dumping” all their troubles on you without consideration for you, then who has the dirty feet? With parameters, you can declare freedom from such an onslaught. You have rights in all your relationships. Helpful dialogue might sound like; I understand how you feel, can we talk more about this later? Or I hear that you are feeling_____, but it is hard for me to keep listening now. Or I hear that you are having a very hard time. I hope things work out well for you. This way you may also avoid making uncomfortable suggestions!!
5. Giving advice and being right
I read somewhere that having to be right is a form of violence. Arguments about who is right can even be precursors for physical fights. Even verbally, we may be walking in someone’s mind with “our dirty feet”…and muddying up their thoughts or self-esteem. Forcing our will or point of view upon someone else is not kind. Force is not kind. Having to be right can come from our own need to be validated.
Charles M. Schulz wrote:
“I never made a mistake in my life. I thought I did once, but I was wrong.”
Humor can enlighten us about having to be right!
6. Sophisticated compassion
Anything that is not love can hurt. Compassion can ameliorate hurt. If you are sophisticated about dealing with your own feelings without judgment, and if you have practiced forgiveness, you may be able to sidestep any arrows directed at you. You can then stay with a challenging conversation.
Saying things like: “that sounds difficult…that must be hard to deal with… or I’m sorry you are going through that. It’s sad when that happens…____ can be helpful.” Being attentive, listening, and expressing compassion is key.
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” ― Aesop
I am a Polarity Therapist, and during a session I have already agreed to listen and hear any number of discomforts, sufferings, strange dreams, somatic pains…or complaints during our time together. I am paid for this session and the client is free to share whatever they need to say within the Sacred Space we create together. They do not risk losing a friendship or relationship when sharing their truth here. I can also offer advise if asked. I can “listen” to their body language too since Polarity Therapy includes energy work as well. Ultimately, it is compassion and kindness and even love that truly pervades the session. I am not my personality as much as the One Who Observes and Holds Sacred Space.
Within this framework there are still subtle and intense parameters to honor. True guidance is being a guide. Like shining a light in darkened areas. Shadows and highlights become more important than black and white answers. However, for most of us, it seems more difficult to hold Sacred Space with a loved one, or close friend. In intimate relationships offering true guidance requires deep sensitivity to another’s state of being.
7. Guidance versus control
Guidance versus control is an important distinction. Parents must protect children, and people have to look out for one another. But we also need to be aware of the micromanaging-effect which can destroy a person’s self-worth.
Suggestions and micromanaging can become criticism. Criticism can feel like rejection, intimidation, bullying, and even disempowerment. Not what children need. Not what adults need either. Sometimes people are only looking for validation or acknowledgement. No two people are identical. No two people think exactly alike. So why would they do things precisely the way we do? Unless we are talking about an exacting science where teaching precision is required, we need to make space for individual choice. When we start telling someone what to do all the time, or to correct their behavior, we can ask ourselves: how would the person feel if we say this…what is it bringing up in me…or what if I choose to say nothing?
Life is unpredictable, and we as humans long for safety, security, and some idea of order in this changeable world. But we do not have the right to control another person. How this relates to freedom of choice is an interesting question. When people ask for feedback or advice we can offer guidance. Notice if they ask!
8. Going beyond suggestion into inspiration:
True wisdom is kind and considerate. It is more than being correct. It can instead be inspiring. The entire orientation toward what to do, how to do it, and how to become a socialized being is thwarted with conformity. We are very socially bonded beings, and we have to be that way in order to survive. However, the notion of conformity smacks up against precious self-expression.
Imagine these choices:
- Would you rather be Corrected or Acknowledged?
- Would you prefer being Controlled or being Allowed to express yourself?
- Do you prefer Suggestions or Acceptance?
- Would you rather have your ideas Critiqued or Considered?
- Would you like to be Forced or Permitted to do things?
- Does it feel better to be Measured or allowed to explore with Non-judgment?
- Do you sometimes need to Talk instead of Listen?
- Would you want help with New Ideas when you ask?
- Would these Ideas offer Flexibility?
- At certain times can you tell if it is more important to Solve a problem, or to Offer Compassion?
- How can we offer Solutions with Compassion?
We can notice when we are not being loving. We can see how to slow down our reactions, and we can watch our impulse to suggest. We can offer suggestions only when asked, or we can ask if they would like a suggestion. We can also offer support as they sort out the solutions. We can offer compassion.
9. What Is compassion?
According to Greater Good Magazine:
Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering…While cynics may dismiss compassion as touchy-feely or irrational, scientists have started to map the biological basis of compassion, suggesting its deep evolutionary purpose. This research has shown that when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and feelings of pleasure light up, which often results in our wanting to approach and care for other people.
10. The creative process: a solution
The creative process, which we use all the time to navigate life and to solve problems, is never wrong. It continually explores. It is self-corrective. It requires inspiration, discernment, freedom and change. It allows creativity to come forth and unfold…almost on its own. It can be lovingly refined and mindfully guided without squelching the ongoing process. Enabling a person to decipher ideas and solutions for themselves offers them support for this natural process.
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” – Dalai Lama
Next time you find yourself ready to correct, criticize, micromanage, and yes, offer a suggestion, consider this: The practice of compassion would allow us to be far less critical and far less likely to offer unsolicited suggestions. Instead, it allows us to be emotionally supportive of creative problem solving.
Compassion is the antidote to offering unsolicited suggestions.
Compassion is the antidote to criticism.
Compassion is the result of learning to Love.
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