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Dealing with Co-workers Who Always Fish for Advice (Then Refuse to Take It)

Your co-worker has a dilemma and seems to be fishing for advice. So, being the nice co-worker you are, you kindly offer some handy advice. But all you get from this co-worker is an icy, cold glare.

"I know," this co-worker says in an irritated tone of voice. "I'm doing it this way."


What? No more than a minute ago, this co-worker didn't know what on earth to do. This co-worker was having a Shakespearean "to be or not to be" professional soliloquy as the two of you stood at the copier. This co-worker was definitely fishing for advice, and, like a good knowledge worker, you shared your knowledge in an effort to abate this co-worker's quandary.

You were just trying to be helpful, but now this co-worker seems vaguely upset and inclined to ignore your advice completely. What just happened here?

I Didn't Ask For Your Advice!
At some point in your career, you will work with the I-want-your-advice-but-don't-want-your-advice co-worker who is always angling for your opinion, but doesn't really want it. This co-worker can be confusing to both male and female colleagues alike, who sit and wonder where they went wrong.

"Should I go with the white one or the red one?" this co-worker muses while shopping online during a work break. Again, like a good knowledge worker, you suggest the red one because white shows stains so easily.

"I know!" this co-worker says with clear decisiveness as she places her order in a huff. "I'm buying the white one."

Wait a minute here: This co-worker was clearly asking for your advice, and you very kindly offered it! You're realizing it might be best never to offer this co-worker advice ever again, because helping this co-worker make basic decisions is fraught with friction. In fact, it's a good way to end up in the proverbial doghouse on any given work day.

Now you're throwing in the towel and waving your stained white flag of surrender as this co-worker wonders aloud whether to email or text a client, where to eat lunch today and which flavor of latte to buy from the corner coffee shop this afternoon. You're not going there, are you? Wise move.

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This awkward situation goes beyond mansplaining, since female colleagues are just as likely to walk into this workplace trap thanks to their accumulation of work/life experience, whether we're talking about work, babies, buying a house or the best way to clean floors. We know things, simply because we have done those things and sometimes suffered the consequences.

But now we must deal with the consequences of our actions as we realize where we went wrong with this co-worker. We offered advice because we thought our advice was being sought, when in reality it made things worse. Oops. What now?

Take My Advice, Or Not
The best thing to do (and I base this on hard-fought personal experience) is to realize that every workplace has at least one co-worker who regularly fishes for advice only to seem highly irritated when a well-intentioned colleague actually offers it. How can we read this co-worker's signals, and keep from falling into the trap?

Here are five tips for dealing with the co-worker who always seems to be fishing for advice but gets irritated when it is offered:

1. Ask if they want your advice. Never offer advice without this co-worker's buy-in. When this co-worker seems to be fishing for advice again, you might simply ask: "Do you want my advice here?" Wait for the answer. If this co-worker says, "yes," then offer your advice. Otherwise, go to your happy place.

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2. Make a few assumptions. Always assume this co-worker does NOT want your advice and is simply thinking out loud. Hey, it's a sharing economy, right? In this case, don't share the blame. If they want your advice, then they can ask for it directly.

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3. Simply agree. Sometimes, the best answer to this co-worker's out loud decision-making process is "uh-huh." Let these co-workers work out which task to do first, which hairstyle to get or where to buy a crock pot online, because past experience has shown that investing your energies in their decision-making process is a good way to get burned.

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4. Have no opinion. "Wow, yeah, good luck with that. I'm sure you'll work it out." It's a simple phrase that acknowledges this co-worker's decision-making dilemma without staking out a clear position. Congratulations, you are the Switzerland of the logistics department.

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5. Don't waste your good breath. Save your good advice for those who actually appreciate your insights. You know these colleagues, because they smile and say: "That helped so much. I'm glad I got to talk to you about this!" Aww.

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Yes, you could offer some wicked good advice, but don't waste it on those who don't seem to want it. This weird workplace situation is one that requires learning through trial and error, unfortunately. Trust me, I know.

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