Your coworker seems to be fishing for advice. You take the bait, and offer your two cents. "I know," this coworker responds in an irritated tone. Well, you didn't seem to know a minute ago. Let's talk about the coworker who keeps fishing for advice, only to get irritated when it's offered!
"I'm not sure if I should do it or not," this coworkers muses as you listen. "Maybe I should wait. Or maybe I should do it? It could probably wait, but it should probably get done?"
This coworker's eyes meet yours, and they seem to be asking for advice. Or are they begging for advice? So you proceed to be a good human and offer your advice, which have the effect of irritating this coworker to no end. "I know," this coworker says with a hint of frustration, before leaving in a huff.
What the hell just happened? Suddenly, you feel like Princess Leia telling Han Solo she loves him.
I Know That Already!
I'll admit, I've fallen into this trap a few times in both professional and casual situations. So, it's not "mansplaining", per se, but it can be just as confusing. When someone is problem solving out loud and they seem to be leaning into you for advice, you might feel compelled to offer your two cents to be helpful.
Big mistake with this coworker. "I know!" the I-thought-you-wanted-advice person says. Yikes. I was only trying to help, because I thought you wanted my opinion!
Now this reformed womansplainer keeps her mouth shut unless I know the person very, very well. Still, I can't help but wonder why some people always seem to be fishing out loud for advice, only to appear highly irritated when it's actually offered. What gives? And what can you do about it in today's collaborative workplaces where working together requires the give and take of working through problems in the moment?
It's human nature to want to help the coworker who is working through a problem out loud. Sometimes, we might know of a shortcut, a cheaper but just-as-viable option, the pitfalls, the headaches or the sore spots based on our own experiences. Instead, we feel like we just got our advice handed back to us in a flaming paper bag. So how should we deal with the coworker who always seems to be asking for advice but gets visibly irritated whenever it's offered?
Knowing When To Offer Advice
The key is to ask coworkers if they want your advice before offering it. Ask, "Would you like my advice?" before saying anything. This step generates the coworker's buy-in. It's a chance up front for this coworker to say either "no, thanks!" or "Yes, I would LOVE to know what you think"**. It's all on their terms.
Otherwise, it's generally best to keep your yap trap shut around the advice-fishing work peer. You might have the best advice on planet earth for addressing this coworker's particular concern, but if it only leads to frustration then it may not be worth it. Perhaps another coworker has a knack for offering advice this employee will actually take? Hey, why don't you go ask them.
Let this coworker come to you directly and ask for your input. And by that, I mean they should literally say: "I would really like your opinion on this." Really? Okay, then!
Offering advice can be a hard needle to thread at work, and everywhere else these days. Social media has trained us to jump right into somebody else's thought stream and comment, and the lines can blur when we're face to face. But offering your two cents shouldn't get you two months in the doghouse. And if it does, you know what to do in the future. Good luck, and feel free to offer your advice in the comments. I promise not to respond with "I know".
** Listen to make sure the latter was not said in a sarcastic tone of voice before offering advice.