When people don’t listen to your advice

I recently had a conversation with a more junior person in my field that went sideways. Over the course of the conversation (which related to our shared field) I felt myself becoming angry—with internal words like “this attitude is a mistake” and “he just doesn’t get it.”

Later in the day I spent some time reflecting on why I was so angry. In my judgment, this person exhibited some negative stereotypes of people in our field. So what was I angry about, given that his attitude was not all that unusual for people in this industry? Simply put, I expected him to be different.

Anger is often the product of expectations

In my view, anger usually stems from one of three sources:

1)      Someone crosses a boundary we hold, and we have to defend ourselves (e.g., you get too close to mama bear’s cubs, and she becomes angry);

2)      We perceive something as unfair or unjust (e.g., anger about various social causes);

3)      We have an expectation that isn’t met (e.g., I expect you to be on time and you’re late). 

By letting go of expectations, I let go of anger

The notion of expectations producing painful emotions is not new. Buddhist philosophy argues that expectations can cause suffering—expecting that a sale will close, expecting that a love interest will reciprocate your affection, expecting that a junior person will listen to your advice. A great deal of professional and personal development advice relates to letting go of expectations: “focus on the process, not the outcome.” Processes we can control, outcomes we can’t.

So it almost goes without saying that if I wanted to avoid feeling angry from this conversation, I should have abandoned any expectation that this person would listen to me. That’s straightforward and I could stop the note here, but the point I want to make relates to what is going on for the receiving person.


People learn at their own pace

There’s only so much we can do to accelerate someone else’s growth curve. In the context of emotions and finance, I see this most frequently when one family member is making questionable financial decisions and other family members are trying to get them to stop. Sometimes the emotion is anger—“why does he keep spending money on get-rich-quick schemes”—an expectation that the family member won’t do things that are obviously financially destructive.

The thing is, it isn’t obvious to the receiving person. That person will eventually learn the right lesson but they are not going to learn the lesson at the time you want them to learn it. They’re going to learn it at their own pace.

We must accept that everyone has their own pace. You may feel that you want to impart some piece of wisdom to another person in order to save them from some dangerous mistake, but the fact is that humans learn the fastest from making mistakes. It’s your counsel—combined with that person making a mistake and then remembering what you warned them about—that is going to get the lesson to really stick.

That’s just how people work.


Not listening is also rejection

Anger is also a defensive emotion that protects us from other, more painful emotions—in this case, the feeling of rejection. When I, as a wise, experienced person in my field, offer my knowledge to a person who is just starting out and that person doesn’t listen to me, that can feel like a rejection or an attack on my wisdom and experience (part of my identity).

Even if we think we are wise and knowledgeable, other people are not required to share this view. This comes back to acceptance. We have to accept that our self-image may not be shared by others, and also accept that another person may have some other thing going on for them that causes them to reject what we want to impart to them. Really doesn’t have anything to do with us.

This happens frequently in professional settings—people reject the advice of their doctors, lawyers, and auto mechanics all the time.

If these people can get used to having their advice rejected, so can you.



Journal on the following or discuss with a friend.

1)      Noticing – When you offer advice, professional counsel, or guidance to another person and they don’t listen, how do you feel?

2)      Inquiry – What was the last time you experienced this? What was the emotion?

3)      Acceptance – What might be a reason behind the person not listening to you? Is there some prerequisite learning that they need to internalize before they can receive your ideas? If they simply don’t consider you to be a person worth listening to, can you be okay with that?

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