I have a dog. I estimate the number of strangers who come up to me in public and give me unsolicited advice about my dog at about 25%. Yes, seriously, 1 in 4 strangers. An informal unscientific poll of my friends shows that not even parents of small children get that much advice! I guess people are (slightly) more respectful when humans are involved?
Anyway, I’m really committed to building a positive community, but I also so much want to shut these people up. I’m sick of being told what herbs my dog should eat or whether or not I should let him lean against my legs or if he should be allowed to put his head outside the car window or which training methods I should use. My dog isn’t bugging anybody. People just want to tell me what’s what.
What’s the script for being polite and shutting down the advice at the same time? Actually, that script would be useful for all aspects of my life. People constantly want to tell other people (especially women) what to do. Creating antagonism feels like a non-solution to me. Just a waste of time and effort that only results in arguments and doesn’t make me feel better.
I’d like to be polite, positive, and clear — no snark, no sarcasm, no hostility. But I can’t think of any statement that meets all those criteria. So instead I just end up silently wandering away first chance I get. Then I feel invisible.
Wants advice on unwanted advice
I don’t know that I have a magic way for you to tell intrusive people to step off but everyone feels great afterward. I have some ways that might work to actually end the interactions, where you can feel like you did your best and at least did not increase the rudeness at play. Will that work?
Possibly this is where the Chilly New England Upbringing and tons of time in Eastern Europe & the U.S. Midwest comes in handy.
The word you’re looking for is “Huh.” (“Ayuh,” if you are in a Stephen King novel.)
“You dog shouldn’t be eating that.”
“Don’t let him lean on you like that.”
“I heard you and am sort of pretending to consider what you said, but feel no need to expand or dig deeper into this conversation.”
You can give it a more questioning tone, like, “You don’t say.” Or you can put a real period on it, like, “Really.” You can repeat it endlessly as a response to anything the person says until you feel like walking away.
Variations of “I’m sure that was kindly meant, but I am not looking for any advice” might be more up your alley and what you were looking for. Polite, positive, and clear, right?
However, you have correctly identified in your letter that this has nothing to do with your dog, and is more about having an excuse to walk up to a strange woman and tell her what’s what. And someone who will do that already has a bad sense of boundaries and will not enjoy receiving a little home training from you. So prepare for things to be impolite, negative, and unclear as this person vomits their “I WAS JUST TRYING TO HELP WHY WON’T YOU ACCEPT MY HELPING” feelings onto you.
In my personal experience, a polite “Thanks, but I don’t want to talk to you” or “Oh, I’m not actually looking for advice, but thank you” answer to an intrusion gets the worst responses from people (where people = men, fellow white women who are older, richer, or thinner than me). Because now, not only was I Doing A Thing Wrong(!), I now have the temerity to dis their perceived higher status and right to dispense advice to folks they perceive as lower status whenever they please. And the reactions range from scary to hilariously telling.
“Thanks, I’ll think about it” has use as a non-confrontational banishment charm. You will think about it for the 5 seconds until they go the fuck away, so it’s not technically a lie, and you aren’t challenging their perceived status to advise you in the first place. But you also aren’t giving them anything to latch onto for a continued conversation. You’re denying them the argument that they were looking for and dismissing them at one go.
You may be tempted to crush these folks with facts. Not a bad instinct, just know that once you do, you are essentially agreeing to have the argument and extend the conversation. You are saying, in effect, “You have a point, here is a counterpoint, there is a way through discussion that one of us could be found to be correct about this.” Unfortunately the possibility of being proved factually wrong does not make someone who really wants your time and attention go away.
So what you say depends on what your goal is and your own perceptions and instincts about the people you’re dealing with, as it will change from person to person. To end the interaction as quickly and “positively” as possible? “Thanks, I’ll think about it.” To let them know that the advice is not welcome? “I’m sure you meant well, but I am not looking for advice, thanks.” An all purpose armor of taciturn inscrutability? “Huh.” You may use them in combination and have to repeat them like a broken record a few times, but they usually work. If they don’t work? Something is seriously off or unsafe about the person you are dealing with.
I’ve mentioned this before, but as a recovering really meek & non-confrontational person, I generally have two polite or noncommittal redirects in me before
As a fat person I get a ton of unsolicited advice about eating & health, so a semi-common occurrence is:
Stranger: “Piece of unsolicited diet/should you be eating that advice.”
Stranger: “keeps going”
Me: “Huh. I’ll think about it” or “I’m not really looking for advice.”
I also make my body language communicate that I am not open to further conversation opening a book, turning physically away, pulling out my phone.
If they keep going at this point, all bets are off.
Stranger: “blabbity blabbity here is more pseudo science dribbling from my facehole”
Me: (Teacher Voice, Full Eye Contact): OKAY. It is REALLY WEIRD how you feel the need to give me advice about this. This is VERY STRANGE BEHAVIOR and I need you to GO AWAY.”
Stranger: SORRY I was just trying to HELP honestly SOME PEOPLE mumble mumble slink away
I don’t think we’re obligated to give all importunate people 2 polite tries, by the way. If someone is really making you feel unsafe and angry and trampling on your human dignity, you are allowed to go to Defcon Fuck-Right-Off-Or-I-Call-Security whenever you want. That’s just my personal way of navigating this stuff, where I want to give people some benefit of the doubt or some face-saving way to back off before I expend any energy of my own.
Letter Writer, I know that you don’t want to waste your time with resentment or adding to the negativity of the world or starting arguments. I don’t want to tell you how to start arguments, I want to tell you how to win them by not getting dragged into them in the first place. I used to stay silent or just physically move away from people who treated me like this, but I found it didn’t make me feel better or safer or more comfortable. First, because many people took my silence as license to continue, and second, if I didn’t say something back to the person I would stew about it all day trying to come up with what I should have said or done. The way to stop wasting time on resentment, to stop holding onto shitty feelings of frustration and powerlessness, is to actually say something back to the people who are bugging you. Even if it’s just a dismissive “Huh.”
Does the Letter Writer seem like she is looking for any advice whatsoever about her dog in the specific situations she outlined in her letter? Does this seem like a thread where we will discuss the merits of ANY dog advice whatsoever in any form?
Good, I thought not.