When helping gets turned into busybody interference

HTWB PWW busybodyWhen you help someone – either in business or socially – have you ever been rebuffed and told to mind your own business even though you’ve done your very best and the person concerned has been grateful for your assistance?

It’s something that happens a lot.

Where do you draw the line between providing useful, needed, appreciated help, and being an interfering busybody nobody likes or has time for? How do you learn if people really want help, or are just storing up your advice to use for other purposes?

It’s one hell of a dilemma. And it’s a dilemma I’ve had to deal with the hard way, whether it’s applicable to business colleagues or personal contacts.

Watch out for two-faced fence-sitters

Don’t let yourself be used as secondhand cannon fodder. People – even elderly people – can be manipulative, and someone of whom they ask a casual opinion can often become a reference point to concerned relatives … “ah, but (your name here) has said we must do so-and-so.”

Even if all you actually said, in response to a direct request for your advice, was “maybe you and your family might want to consider…etc.”

Your idea of helpful advice given only after being asked for it can be turned and twisted into all kinds of provocative issues if you’re not careful.

Watch out for a similar syndrome in business

HTWB April Fool 1Say a work colleague is struggling with a project that’s not within your remit, and asks your opinion on how to proceed from here on. Do you give your advice freely?

Or do you stop to consider what might happen should the person concerned take your advice and it turns out to be inappropriate?

Who gets the blame if the person concerned follows your advice? The person you advised, who had a totally free choice whether to take your advice or not, or you?

The danger of being a friendly freelancer or consultant

Although I’ve never worked full time for a large company, in my career I spend many hours/days/weeks/probably months or even years of my working life on the sidelines of such business environments, as a writing-related freelance consultant.

When you’re a freelancer who has worked / is working for a large company over a long period as I tend to do, you almost become part of the family. But because you actually are not a real part of the family, often you are viewed as an unofficial mentor to your clients, particularly those at the sharp end of any project.

You are thought, quite rightly, to be an informed insider but an outsider all at the same time. And people confide in you. And ask you what you think.

So how do you handle it?

Initially you can get away with not answering by being bashful and saying it’s not your place to comment.

HTWB few drinksBut let’s face it: at 03:00 hrs on the second day of rehearsals for a major conference/convention when everyone has had a few drinks and is physically and mentally exhausted, it’s difficult to keep up the excuses when the client concerned is begging you to help them out.

In my own experience the vast majority of clients who have taken me into their confidence and asked my advice have recognised it for what it’s worth, have kept it to themselves and either used it or dumped it.

However there have been a couple who have used it in order to challenge their powers-that-be and try to gain attention and kudos without having to take responsibility for it.

And on being challenged by the boss (whatever his/her reasons) have dunked me right into the doo-doo with, er, unsatisfactory consequences which I couldn’t have rectified without dropping my initial client contact into even more doo-doo.


Should we avoid advising clients on anything other than strictly what we have been hired to do?

Should we offer any unofficial advice we’re asked on the basis of some kind of legally “unbinding” arrangement whereby we can’t be held liable for any consequences arising from our, etc., etc.?

Or should we just shut up and let them get on with it themselves?

I would love to know your thoughts…

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photo credit: Alan Cleaver via photopin cc
photo credit: daveypea via photopin cc