“Have you ever tried…” “not being a pain in the ass?”

9 06 2011

Everyone loves unsolicited advice. Nothing make people happier than mentioning that they’re a bit frustrated with someone or something in their lives, and getting twenty five helpful suggestions over drinks on how they can fix it.

B T dubs, it’s Opposite Day.

People tend to hate advice. We’ve all heard friends complain, about a significant other, parent, or miscellaneous, “Why can’t he/she just listen? I don’t want to be fixed, I just wanted to talk!”

And yet, people the world over continue to give advice. We all do it. It’s so hard not to! Other people can be so dumb. It’s so obvious what they need to do!

Logically, most people know what they need to do. If someone is complaining about being overweight, odds are that they know that diet and exercise are the way to go. People in bad, dead-end relationships know that they need to end it.

But when you’re the one in it, it’s infinitely more complicated than that. The gym? Who has time for the gym?! And maybe you would eat less if your job was not super stressful and right across the street from an amazing smelling bakery.

These are things I imagine one would say. Hypothetically.

So we all try to avoid taking the advice approach with out clients. Once in a while, when people are looking for something concrete, like an apartment or benefits, or if they need a disciplinary strategy that does not involve belts or kneeling on rice, you might offer a suggestion. But overall, we know that helping our clients to figure it out for themselves is the best way to go. It’s more meaningful that way, and more empowering. It helps them to see that they have it in them to be good parents and competent adults. It contributes to lasting change, rather than, “Well yeah, it worked your way that one time.”

This also shows them that we have enough respect for them to realize that, “Well, have you ever tried not beating your children?” is a bit too simplistic.

We can hold back for our clients. Even when we really really know what they should be doing. But can we do that with each other?

I recently had to schedule a conference to address elevated risk in the home of a family I work with. This is social work speak for mom moved her baby’s abusive father back into the home. They admit to a history of domestic violence, but there is no order of protection. Legally, we can’t do anything. But we can meet with the mother and the three teenage children, to talk about safety, what this means for them, and what we can do for the family.

As a sidenote, I must mention the incredible bravery and selflessness of the oldest child, a fifteen year old girl, who took it upon herself to come to me and tell me that this man was back in the home full time, and that she didn’t feel that it was safe. I want to give her a medal. I had to settle for my warm regards and a Metrocard. (Budget cuts, you know.)

When we schedule these conferences, we need to go through child services, and explain the need for the conference. The man I email with the request is just supposed to go ahead and schedule. If any information is missing, he can call for clarification.

Instead, he called with some helpful suggestions. “Did you talk to the mom about this?” No, obviously not. Who would think of such a revolutionary approach? I’ve never been much of an innovator.

“Maybe you should stop by the home to evaluate the child who was hit and check for safety. Then you can talk to mom about the conference.” So I shouldn’t just smack my clients and tell them to do as I say. Weird.

Yes, this is the obnoxious, sarcastic attitude we all get (maybe me more so than others) when we get that unsolicited advice. Especially when it’s from someone who doesn’t really know the field, know the case, or who is just kind of annoying.

Advice that I’ve gotten from what I would consider to be random third parties? Let’s see:

  • “Try encouraging them to have dinner as a family every night.” – trainer, unaware most of my families don’t have tables.
  • “You should let her know you’re cool so she’ll want to talk to you. Show her your Silly Bandz!” -CPS worker, not realizing my reputation for cool precedes me.
  • “Tell the mom that her son probably isn’t gay, he’s just confused.” -Stupid coworker, who I encourage you to blame all the world’s problems on.
  • “If the family isn’t willing to come in, try meeting them at a playground.”- Former director who didn’t realize that playgrounds around here are for drug deals.

Sometimes, the advice sounds good. Why haven’t I had the kids in for an individual session? Why didn’t I refer the father to that group that he sounds perfect for? Particularly in trainings, when they offer typed up examples, in which a worker asking a parent, “What’s your greatest fear for your child?” catches the parent off guard, and leads to them spilling their greatest secrets, which in turn leads to flawless work getting done.

Has it ever gone in real life the way it goes in those example scenarios? Like once? Seriously, I’m grasping at straws, people.

It’s easier to take from someone you trust, and have some respect for. When my supervisor gives me a suggestion, based on her knowledge of my families and her own years of experience, I can take it, make it my own, and use it. When a trainer offers a new way to engage families in counseling, that I can fit in with my own style, I’m open to it.

But when someone whose primary job description matches the definition of a calendar essentially tells me, “try doing your job,” or a less than qualified protective worker tells me I should consider going against my social work principles, “open” is not really the word.

I guess it’s all in the delivery.

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5 responses

9 06 2011
Carolyn

I have been known to walk the halls of this hospital muttering “client self-determination, client self-determination”. “Cuz you know, it’s now that it’s cracked up to be. Okay, never mind the fact that it is a underlying value of social work. Sometimes they make really dumb decisions and make you live with them.

13 06 2011
socialjerk

Clients, family members, you name it. It’s so hard to see people make bad decisions, when you know what they should be doing. I try to remind myself that this must be what my parents felt like, ten or twelve years ago 🙂

10 06 2011
Nectarine

Ever have one of those clients who is constantly ASKING for advice? And then you spend inordinate amounts of time trying to convince them that that’s not your job, and probably not helpful, and you want to empower them to find their own solutions? What a frustrating side-effect of this conundrum.

13 06 2011
socialjerk

I have one of those on my caseload now. She really wants me to tell her what to do. The woman has a long history of being in abusive relationships, and she’s really struggling to trust herself and make her own decisions. It’s a tough road getting her to realize that she knows what she needs to do, and doesn’t need me (or anyone else) to tell her.

11 06 2011
Weekly Social Work Links 20 « Fighting Monsters

[…] Social Jerk shares her ever amusingly truthful take on unsolicited advice. […]

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