How do I stop being prideful?
October 19, 2012 4:28 PM   Subscribe

How to be less...prideful and more open to outside suggestions? I guess?

I'm looking for any advice or reading suggestions you guys might have on this.

Basically, I have this problem where I don't like to be told I'm wrong. I don't mind being wrong, but I prefer to find this out on my own. As soon as someone else suggests a plan of action to me, I want to throw it out, even the idea was something I was thinking myself. If I follow along with a plan after they've suggested it, I feel like I'm giving off the appearance of having been "controlled" by them. When someone suggests something to me, it usually seems less like they're trying to be helpful, and more like they're trying to assert dominance over me. (If I follow through on some one's suggestions and things work out well for me as a result of it, I just feel resentful, because my success wasn't really a product of my own thoughts or "intellectual" efforts. I was only doing the grunt work. )

Regardless of whether or not this is the case, the most useful thing to do in these situations is to ignore how the information was delivered, and consider it objectively. I know this is the smart thing to do, but I still struggle with it because I'm too angry and annoyed at being told what to do in the first place. Suggestions on how to stop worrying about stupid things like this?
posted by jumelle to Human Relations (17 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Letting pride go is pretty difficult. Personally, I find it easier and easier every year. I think that may be because the older I get, the more examples I have of me getting things wrong.

I'd try focusing on the positive aspects of being wrong- namely, your ability to admit it. Being able to admit that you're wrong and alter your behavior is a pretty great quality in a person, and also a rare one. It's the reason I admire scientists so much; a scientist who isn't willing to be proven wrong isn't really much of a scientist.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 4:40 PM on October 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Virtually everyone feels this way. Including small children.

You are right about how to handle this -- consider the ideas/suggestions objectively -- but I think you may also want to give yourself a breather before doing so. For example, say "Thanks for the suggestion. I'll think about it." Then put it aside and make a decision later, when you feel cooler.

Also, if you are close to the people who do this, you might want to explain, when you feel cool, that hearing somebody say "I wonder what your opinion is on x course of action" is much easier to take in than "You're doing that wrong. Do this" or "I'd suggest you do x instead of what you propose."
posted by bearwife at 4:45 PM on October 19, 2012

Congrats: You recognize the problem, which is the first step to solving it.
This question is close to me, and I won't say I've licked it entirely, but I do a lot better with it now than I used to.
No doubt some people will say you must 'learn to consider the other position.' Well, yes, of course -- in the long run. But you may not be able to do that (yet).
A more effective beginning might be to learn this: 1) Shut the F up for a minute, and 2) respond with something like "Hmmm. That's another way of looking at it."
You can do that without considering the validity of the other position at all.
I guarantee you'll feel better, and find yourself better able to appreciate what I assume is the case: that you're all on the same side. As you make progress, you'll even learn to ignore arrogance, provocation, and bombast.
Good luck. You can do this.
posted by LonnieK at 4:46 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

To me, "prideful" is a Biblical term. From your example, I'd just call it being a jerk. It might be easier to think about what needs to change by thinking about it from that perspective. If you want to figure out the specifics, such as why you don't like being told you're wrong, I think therapy is a good investment for that kind of thing. Point being, I don't see what you describe as being solely an issue of "pride."
posted by rhizome at 4:49 PM on October 19, 2012

I find that it helps to hear it from someone whose expertise/competence I respect. I spent a lot of years in environments where I was generally more competent than people around me. Seeking out bigger ponds with bigger fish helped. If I genuinely feel someone is fundamentally less competent than I am, it's really hard to not feel like "that just has to be a stupid idea" -- even if I was thinking almost exactly the same thing.
posted by Michele in California at 4:51 PM on October 19, 2012

I don't know if this will work for you, but what worked for me was picking up a hobby where I was basically forced to be publicly wrong. A lot. No one was ever mean in their corrections, but still, they were correcting me in front of other people. They knew more than I did - a lot more. I kind of had to just suck it up.

What I learned, and what has carried over into a lot of the rest of my life, is that I don't die of embarrassment when I'm publicly corrected (in a polite way, obviously), and no one remembers for very long that I was wrong and needed help. I now have much less trouble asking for help - not just in my hobby, but in other areas of my life - and in letting go of the ego part of me that must not be wrong! Ever!

Because - what's the goal? Is it to be right about everything all the time? Is it to get something done quickly or efficiently? Is it to learn new skills and expand old ones? To me, a goal of "I did it all by myself" can be good, but not at the expense of feeling resentful about sincerely offered advice or help, or refusing an opportunity to learn a new way of doing something. Mistakes are a great way to learn, don't get me wrong - but you will make them even if you take someone's advice about a better way to do [foo], and you'll learn.
posted by rtha at 4:55 PM on October 19, 2012 [11 favorites]

For me it helps to look at things from the other side.

If I offer a correction to someone and they immediately try it out and say "hey cool, that works better than what I was doing", I find myself really impressed with that person. Not because they went along with my idea, but because they had the mental flexibility and confidence to try something new without getting defensive.

Usually the people who react that way are some of the smartest and most accomplished people I've met.
posted by tdismukes at 6:34 PM on October 19, 2012 [11 favorites]

Practice getting over yourself. It's good to value your own knowledge and intelligence, but let's face it -- very few of us are able to address all the facets of a given situation and this be without a need for other people's input. The more insular you allow your thinking to be, the more likely you are to make stupid mistakes, get stuck in ruts, and develop solutions that only work for you. Having other people provide you with feedback and ideas is the best way to become your best self, not the other way around. Every time you're wrong or have the chance to take someone else's advice is an opportunity for growth, and really, your ideas probably aren't worth much to begin with if you don't make an effort to diversify every now and then.

PS: Not taking input from others graciously and thoughtfully has probably made you look much worse than you can imagine.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:01 PM on October 19, 2012

Yeah, I agree with tdismukes. If any part of this pridefulness is about how you're being perceived by others (you do say you're worried about "giving off the appearance of having been 'controlled'") it shouldn't be too hard to remember that by behaving as you've described you're in fact likely giving off a much less flattering appearance (possibly explicitly demonstrating the sort of insecurity or lack of expertise you're potentially trying to hide?).

If you're having trouble getting started, maybe for now try simply taking seriously any ideas others are putting your way, no matter how idiotic. Twist their idea into something useful, if you have to, but make them feel like their input was valuable. Or at least go through the steps of evaluating their idea out loud, starting from an assumption that it's an interesting idea and ending with figuring out why it's not going to work, if that's indeed the case. But bonus points if you can extract something of worth from that process.
posted by nobody at 7:05 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't call this prideful. Maybe defensive? I would think that it comes from insecurity - speaking as someone who has struggled around this. Not unsual. There's a reason unsolicited advice is considered rude by many people (though obviously not everyone feels that way). My advice, assuming that the people you are dealing with are generally well-meaning friends, and not your boss:

I like bearwife's idea. In the moment that someone makes a suggestion, you don't have to declare your judgment on it. You can listen, focus on keeping your cool, and say "I'll have to think about that," and change the subject. This way you are making a polite, mature response.

Then let it marinate. Obviously this brings up some tricky feelings for you, so give yourself time to be annoyed, pissed, or whatever. You get to have your feelings. When that's over, revisit the advice. If it's truly not a useful idea, then just let it go. If it has some merit, then you can try it, or try part of it.

If it's an in-the-moment thing where you can't take time, you can usually say "I'm trying X approach right now, let me see how that works. I'll keep your idea in mind." I think you'll work your way up to trying other people's ideas on the fly, when you are more confident and comfortable, but it's ok for that to take some time.

Keep in mind that blindly following *or* rejecting others' advice doesn't necessarily make a great impression, but thoughtfully considering someone's ideas and implementing them in a way that works best for your situation makes you come across as both confident and committed to doing well.

I've also noticed that people who easily admit their mistakes and laugh at themselves earn more respect - and seem to be having more fun and doing better at their pursuits. This has been a hard row to hoe for me, but worth bringing up here.

I also find that this stuff also gets a lot better if you shift your focus from what other people think of you, to what you want to accomplish. If you are focused on your passion for making the BEST lobster souffle, then a suggestion about adding some tarragon is not a "your souffle sucks!" statement, but an "I support your quest to make awesome souffle!" statement. And also, it makes life more fun.

I keep bringing it up, but the Brene Brown TED talk on vulnerability is probably worth a listen.

Good luck and don't beat yourself up. Lots of us struggle around this and you are not alone.
posted by bunderful at 7:55 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

It really depends on the context.

A lot of people love giving unsolicited advice. This happens a lot when you're young and, although well-intentioned, a lot of it can be awfully overbearing, and, sometimes controlling or manipulative. So, in a family/social situation, you take the advice at face value and respond accordingly (by taking all/some of it on board or ignoring it altogether). An older relative once told me that they don't see their children as being grown up - they see them as they were when they were little. So no matter how old you get, you'll always been this younger person in need of advice and wisdom from your elders.

In a work capacity it is best to take it on board as much as possible as you're being paid to do that and there are reasons behind that advice. If, however, those reasons seem unsound to you, then that's a matter of whether your goals are aligned with that of your employer.

The anger and annoyance may come from feelings of insecurity over one's adequacy and value. So strengthen your self-esteem and this will feel less acute to you.

But, FWIW, no one really likes being told they're wrong.
posted by heyjude at 7:59 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

There are people who offer bad advise, or unsolicited, so your defensive reaction is certainly warranted, sometimes. Defensive behavior, however, is not warranted. Don't beat yourself up about feeling defensive but focus on how you handle it. If someone is offering you bad advise, or being a blowhard, you don't have to say anything at all. Silence can highlight awkward comments and this way you don't have to be a jerk at all, you can be Yoda.
posted by waving at 3:37 AM on October 20, 2012

I agree with tdismukes:
For me it helps to look at things from the other side.

If I offer a correction to someone and they immediately try it out and say "hey cool, that works better than what I was doing", I find myself really impressed with that person. Not because they went along with my idea, but because they had the mental flexibility and confidence to try something new without getting defensive.

But I would take it further. That analysis is still about people taking advice. I would think through how YOU perceive yourself when you GIVE advice. Are you trying to control the other person? Are you trying to assert dominance over them? How does it affect your emotions if they take the advice vs. if they reject it?

If you decide that you are not controlling and it's not an insult if they don't take your advice, then you owe it to others to offer them the same generosity of spirit when they try to give you advice (until it is proven that they really are a controlling monster, at which point you are allowed to resent anything they say). But most people aren't like that.

As an aside, as I was reading your question, all I could think of was the Republican Party as they reject healthcare proposals "from Obama" when they themselves offered those same proposals just a few years ago. So if you are looking for reading, you might look at some of the political essays that address this.
posted by CathyG at 5:27 AM on October 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

One part of this that I would ask you to carefully consider is the need to figure everything out by yourself. Man, if that's the way you want to go through life, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of hardship. Seriously.

Solving problems is great, pride in accomplishment is great, innovation is great. Don't get me wrong. But there is a lot of collected wisdom in the human experience, and you don't have to build everything from scratch. Really. There is great comfort in this. You don't have to reinvent everything. This is most apparent in school, work, technical, sport environments--I think this is why folks are referencing pastimes and hobbies and stuff--but it's also true with interpersonal relationships and philosophy and emotional intelligence.

You recognize this to some extent, which is why you asked this question, right?

Really: you don't need to do everything on your own. You don't need to figure it all out from scratch. Work on giving yourself permission to be released from those self-imposed obligations. Practice gratitude that people, knowledge, wisdom are the to help you.

Sounds woo woo, you bet, but I bet you will be a lot happier in the long run if you just let that burden go. Good luck.
posted by Sublimity at 6:46 AM on October 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

Try asking people for advice on your own terms when you question yourself or even if you don't. It's good practice for being gracious about accepting advice even when it's not solicited.
posted by walla at 8:07 AM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have issues with this as well. I think the above suggestions to take a pause (saying something like, "Thanks for the advice, I'll definitely think it over.") and think about it is a good way to deal with the situation, regardless of where the advice comes from.

I went to a lecture once about this very thing (in a work context, but it works just as well for good friends) and came away with this item that really got me thinking: "Consider any advice or constructive criticism as a gift. This person cares about you enough to take the time to offer a suggestion. It would be a lot easier for them to just move on with their day and not say anything. But - they took the time. So do them the courtesy of actually considering what they had to say." That gave me a totally different perspective. For random strangers or acquaintances, I may still blow them off. But for friends and colleagues, I do sit down and think about what they've said. And if it's advice I ended up taking, I make a point of saying thank you - just a simple, "Hey Person, thanks for your advice about X. I've tried it out and found that it works a lot better than what I was doing. Thanks for letting me know." People really do like it when they find out you've thought about what they've said, and it's really helped me in some of my relationships with people.
posted by RogueTech at 7:28 PM on October 20, 2012

Unless someone directly insults you, say "thanks" no matter how you feel. Just jam the word "thanks" in, as your jaw clenches and stomach churns.

Once you're responded with thanks, you can use the next few minutes to figure out how to believe it. It's usually right anyways.
posted by ead at 10:31 PM on October 20, 2012

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