I’m a list writer. I find that it helps me keep organized and my thoughts all in one place. To me, lists are fundamental to staying organized and I can’t imagine how anyone survives without them. Sometimes I even keep lists of my lists (just in case, you know!).

“Our family is heading down south this winter. We’re driving, so the instructions for everyone are to pack light. I’ve been creating lists of all the things that need to be organized for quite some time now, and I’m feeling pretty good about my organization level.

My daughter, Victoria, wants a copy of my packing list. While she could create her own list, she thinks that mine will be better (because I am so organized).

However, not everyone appreciates my lists, or my style of organization.

My mom is coming with us and when I shared with her a copy of the list (so she wouldn’t forget anything), she was quite offended. According to her, she was an adult, perfectly capable of packing for herself, and she wasn’t going to forget anything, and if she did, then she would deal with it at that time. She felt that the offer of my list was condescending and insulting. She reminded me that she was the parent, and not I.

My sharing of the list was never meant to be insulting or condescending; I’d only meant to be helpful.

While driving home from dinner with friends of ours recently, we drove through a construction zone which has been tying up traffic for months. Without even thinking about it, I told my friend Steve, to turn left ahead and I would show him a shortcut.

He did not appreciate what I perceived as helpful. He was well aware of the shortcut and when I offered (unasked-for) instruction he took it as an insult.

In both of these cases my intention was completely positive. It hadn’t even occurred to me that my input would be perceived as insulting, condescending or anything short of helpful.

I’m sure I’m not alone in making these types of mistakes. At work we say things like “Oh, that isn’t how I do it” or “Let me show you my way,” without realizing that we are potentially sending a message that their way is wrong, or that the other person is incompetent.

Think about your next big family dinner when you ask how something was made and respond by saying, “That isn’t how I do it. Let me show you how my mother did it.” What message are you potentially sharing? Are you offering sincere assistance and is it being interpreted that way?

Like me, I’m sure that you don’t mean to criticize or be negative. You’re trying to be helpful.
When you are asked for advice, feel comfortable sharing it. If you have something that you’d like to share and haven’t yet been asked, you can ask the other person’s permission:
“Mom, I’ve created a packing list that I find helpful. Would you like a copy?” or “Steve, I know a shortcut if you’re interested.”

This would give my mother the opportunity to refuse my list politely. Steve could say, “I know that shortcut, too” without getting defensive.

There are many ways to get to the same end result. Just because your way works for you does not mean it is the best, the only or even the easiest. It is just your way. Wait until your advice is asked for.

Victoria is happy that I have given her a list. My mom will pack just fine without my organization tools. Steve did know the shortcut.

Pantyhose that say, “One size fits all” is just a marketing gimmick. We all know that they don’t actually fit anyone. Don’t assume your style works for everyone, either.”

Rhonda Scharf, CSP, HoF, GSF is a Certified Speaking Professional, Hall of Fame, trainer and author based in Ottawa. She helps organizations feel motivated and educated through her interactive, realistic and fun training programs and keynote speeches. If ... (Read More)

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