Don’t be an askhole

Alisha Brown wants to know why you ask for advice and don’t take it.

Some would call me easily irritated. Many travesties grind my gears: slow walkers, Microsoft Auto-Update, and sushi restaurants that make you pay for soy sauce. But while I prefer to think of myself as ‘passionate’ and ‘sensitive’, I can no longer deny my simmering hostility towards one particular type of individual: the askhole.

Askhole (n.): Someone who asks for advice and either 1) refuses to take it, or 2) does the complete opposite of what you suggest.

Let’s say you have a friend, Rachel. Rachel messages you with a conundrum. She just matched with someone really cute on Bumble who is keen to meet up but she has “literally, like, no free time” between juggling two jobs, a full-time study load, a sick dog, and an online shopping problem. You suggest that it might be best to postpone the date until next week, when she has a little more space in her clusterfuck of a life. “Yeah, you’re probably right,” she replies with the sulky-sad emoji. “Thanks babe xx.” She sends you mirror selfies the next day from someone else’s bedroom.

From meal choices to work decisions, haircuts and new cars, the askhole will inevitably rear their ugly head to smile and nod at your thoughtful suggestion before promptly ignoring it.

But why? Do I just give really shit advice, or is there something more complex going on?

I spoke to Iain Crossing, a business psychologist working on a PhD at USyd, to try and shed some light on this unfortunate social phenomenon. He says that advice-seeking behaviours are extremely important for learning how to approach positive experiences and avoid negative ones.

“Advice helps us calibrate our sense of how well we are making decisions, ” he says.

But while humans are hardwired to approach others, this doesn’t always translate into acting on others’ advice.  Iain puts this down to two factors: the receiver’s personal beliefs, and the advice-giver’s tone.

“When advice is unsolicited or directive, it can be interpreted as criticism, which makes people defensive,” he says. “If advice-givers can take a coaching approach rather than a ‘telling what to do’ approach, this can lessen defensiveness in the receiver.”

Me? Critical? NEVER. Alas, this is a very valid point. Like their defiance towards car GPS systems, people simply don’t want to be told what to do (“take me to Chatswood, goddamnit!”). They seize up, safeguard their egos, and brush away your advice in favour of their own inclinations.

So what can we do to avoid defensiveness?

“Take some time to listen to the person you’re trying to help to really understand the issue,” Iain suggests. “Saying, ‘In situations like this, I’ve seen people do X, how would that work for you?’ is much better than ‘You should do X’.”

But what if people still refuse to listen? What if you’ve sat them down in classic Dr Phil fashion, furrowed your brow, ummd and ahhd in all the right places, finally thrown in your two centsnd then they tell you to cash them ousside?

As much as this behaviour frustrates me, Iain points out that it’s rarely harmful for people to make decisions independently.

“Most situations aren’t life or death,” he says. “People do need to learn things for themselves and hearing someone tell you what to do is one narrow method of learning.”

If someone does choose to approach you for some pearls of wisdom, you shouldn’t be too offended if they inspect the pearls and place them back into your palm.

“The best thing an advice-giver can do if the person won’t take it is to be supportive and helpful, regardless of whether they turn out to be right or wrong,” says Iain.

This can be very difficult. Often the first thing we’re inclined to do when we find out that we were right all along is to scream, “I told you so!” But a win-or-lose mindset privileges ends over means. It implies that life is a multiple-choice quiz where getting the answer right is more important than thinking about the questions. This consequentialism is out of touch with the reality that sometimes our advice is rejected because the so-called ‘askhole’ was never looking for a solution. Sometimes ‘advice’ means ‘guidance’, not ‘answers’, and you can’t blame someone for turning down a different road when they only ever asked you to be a passenger— not a navigator.

So maybe it’s ok if I—oh, I mean Rachel—doesn’t take her friend’s advice. Maybe it’s OK to send mirror selfies from someone else’s bedroom. Maybe it’s OK for us to ask for suggestions and then ignore them completely. Maybe we’re not all askholes—maybe we’re just human.

Human, and bloody irritating.