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Don't Forget About Their Ego

Updated: Jan 28, 2023

Have you ever advised someone to do something that seems totally logical to you, but the other person won't listen? You ask them why, and they cannot give you a logical reason. What's going on here?

Recently, one of my classmates talked about how her dad was having conflict with her grandma, so she advised her dad to be more tactful and less demanding when speaking towards grandma. Her dad got upset and did not listen. She then got upset at her dad for being unreasonable.

My mentor asked us how we could solve this problem. You can take a moment to think of a a solution and then compare it to what my mentor said.

The solution I thought of was to wait until the father is in a happier mood and then advise him again with a softer tone of voice. I got this idea from The Guide To A Happy Life, which said,

"If my parents have faults, I will encourage them to improve in a warm and gentle manner. If they don’t accept my encouragement, I will try again when they are happy."

My mentor then said something that I found highly insightful. He explained that perhaps her dad was unwilling to listen simply because it is quite embarrassing for a father figure to be told he's wrong by his daughter. Most fathers would hope that their daughter or son would look up to them. To extend this idea further, most of us are normal people with a sensitive ego. Therefore, it is not enough to only consider the logic of our advice; we also have to give the advice in a way that does not hurt their ego.

So how can we do that? First, we need to consider if the person is above, equal, or below us.

  • Above: parents, elders, older siblings, teachers, leaders, more experienced people

  • Equal: classmates, colleagues, friends

  • Below: children, younger siblings, students, followers, less experienced people

Let's go through each in detail.

Advising Those Above Us

If the person is above us, then we should not have the attitude of "I am giving you advice." That would be rather arrogant, and the person might argue back simply because of their ego. Instead, we can say, "I have an idea that I want to check with you to see if it is good or not."

For example, my classmate could have said to her father,

"Hi dad. I noticed you are having some conflict with grandma recently, and I have an idea that I want to check with you to see if it is good or not. Maybe if we use a more tactful approach and avoid a demanding tone of voice, grandma might respond better? Do you think that's a good idea?"

By letting the father make the decision, the father feels respected, and his ego won't feel attacked. The chances of a positive response are much higher.

Advising Those Equal to Us

If the person is equal to us, we need to consider how much trust we have with them. High trust means we have a great relationship with them, and they are willing to listen to our advice. In that case, we can give the advice directly and say, "I think you should…I advise you to…"

But if we don't have a lot of trust in the relationship, and they are not very open to our advice, then it is best to use the "checking an idea with you" attitude. This method is more respectful and reduces the chances of conflict.

Advising Those Below Us

If the person is below us, we have to consider how humble and open-to-feedback they are. If the person is very humble and open-to-feedback, then we can give the advice very directly. But many people have a sensitive ego and dislike being told that they are wrong. Or sometimes, children feel like their parents always nag at them, so they refuse to listen simply because they have a bad impression of their parents.

If they have a sensitive ego or are rebellious to elders, then elders should not have the attitude of "I am giving you important advice." That might make them feel pressured and disrespected, like you are bossing them around, which then causes resistance and conflict.

Instead, elders can say, "I have an idea that you could consider, and we can discuss it together."

For example, let's say you want your younger sister to eat less junk food. If you criticize her with a harsh tone of voice, she might not listen to you or even argue with you because you hurt her ego.

Instead, you could say, "Recently I've been thinking about something that might be worth it for you to consider. I think health is really important because if we get ill, we will be in a lot of pain and we cannot do the important things we want in life. Food is such a big part of health, and I think it is important to eat less junk food and more healthy food. I don't know if this is something you might consider or want to discuss?"

It is very important for us to not be demanding or impatient for them to listen to us. The more demanding and impatient we are, the more they will feel pressured and unhappy, and the more they will resist. We all like people who make us feel cared for and respected, and we listen to those people. No one likes people who make us feel bad, and we usually don't listen to those people.


My Experience

Advising Those Above

Next school semester, I am teaching one online class. The class has 10 students, and 1 student will be attending in-person. Now that COVID is less serious, the principal wants all teachers to return to school, but I am a special case because I specifically teach online, so I sent an email to my principal to request to teach at home.

At first, I wrote, "Since I am an online teacher, and 9 out of my 10 students are online, can I teach from home?" Although my message wasn't disrespectful or unreasonable, I felt that it was still a bit arrogant, like I am making a demand.

So I reworded it to be more humble:

"Thank you and the school for giving me the opportunity to teach these online courses every semester. I was thinking that since 9 out of my 10 students are online, it might be a more effective use of my time to teach from home. I could use the two hours of commute time saved to mark homework. If that one student wants to meet with me, we could make an appointment for me to go to school. Do you think that's okay?"

My principal replied, "Sure, I understand your situation, no problem."

Advising Those Equal

Recently, I observed a fellow teacher teaching English to some students. I wasn't there to give feedback, but I noticed some important mistakes that he was most likely unaware of, and if he fixes these simple mistakes, his teaching would be much more effective, and his students would be happier in class. Hence, I decided to advise him afterwards.

Although I am not that close with him, I get the feeling that he is a rather humble person, so I asked, "Hey, after watching you teach just now, I had some ideas that might be helpful to you if you want to hear them?"

He replied, "Oh yes, please share."

At this point, I was still cautious. After all, if someone says they have some advice for me, I would feel pressured to hear them; Otherwise, I would seem arrogant (the ego is such a problem isn't it?). So I lightly eased into my advice, saying,

"Well, I think you are clearly a very caring and hardworking teacher. I can tell you prepared a lot for the lesson. I just happened to notice that when a student gives an answer, you tend to echo their answer back to them when they pause for a while in the middle of their answer. I used to do that too, and then another teacher told me that it's a bad habit because we are interrupting their thought pattern. They will think 'Oh, the teacher is speaking now. I can stop.' But then we stop, so then they think, 'Oh, I need to keep talking. Where was I again?' This can be frustrating for the student, so not echoing might be something you could try in the future."

He was very appreciative of the advice, and I don't think his ego was offended.

Advising Those Below

As a teacher, I often give advice to students. The really conscientious and respectful students are easy to advise. You tell them to do something, and they will go do it and report the results. But these students are rather rare.

A lot of students don't listen despite hearing the same advice multiple times. Then, the situation gets delicate because they might start disliking the teacher for being naggy. For example, I had a student who submitted her homework on time in the beginning of the semester, but later, she kept forgetting to submit homework. I asked her why. She said she is quite busy and sometimes her internet has problems.

I told her, "OK, if you cannot submit your homework, please at least message me before class to show your respect towards the teacher. I am not demanding you to respect me, but rather I want you to nurture a respectful mind towards matters. That is very important to your future success."

She said, "OK." But later, she kept forgetting again. I realized I can't just keep nagging at her. We need to actually have a thoughtful conversation about the issue. So I set up a meeting with her.

I asked her, "Do you remember why I keep asking you to notify me before class if you cannot submit your homework?"

She said, "Respect."

I asked, "Do you know why I emphasize respect?"

She said, "Nope."

In my mind, I was thinking, "What! You forgot what I told you?! OK calm down…that's pretty normal. Don't get angry at people. That's not nice."

I replied, "OK, let's talk about it. Do you like people who respect you or disrespect you?"

She said, "Those who respect me."

I asked, "Are you more likely to help people who respect you or who disrespect you?"

She said, "People who respect me."

I said, "The way I see it, we all need other people's help to be successful in life. In school, you need the help of your teachers and classmates. At home, you need the help of your family. In the future, you need the help of your boss and colleagues. Therefore, cultivating respect is really important. What do you think?"

She nodded and said, "Yes, respect is pretty important."

I said, "OK, I just want to make it clear that I am not forcing you to do anything. Please update me because YOU want to cultivate a respectful attitude, not because you feel pressured by me. Also, we are all normal people with habits, so you will probably forget again in the future. How could you prevent yourself from forgetting?

She said, "I guess I could set a reminder on my phone?"

I replied, "Good idea. I also know some past students who set rewards and punishments for themselves. For example, they would do extra chores if they forget, and if they remembered for a week in a row, they get to eat at their favorite restaurant."

She said, "Oh that sounds like a good idea. If I forget, I can wash more dishes at home. If I remember for a week in a row, I can eat my favorite food."

I said, "Great idea! I am here to support you, so if you encounter difficulties later, we can discuss further."

This conversation took a good 15 minutes, but it was much more effective than my previous attempts of simply ordering her. Later, she sometimes submitted homework, sometimes forgot, but when she forgot, she notified me and also told me she did the dishes. I was happy to see her improve her respect.


Advising others is probably one of the most difficult but important things in life. Being good at giving advice means others will be receptive and appreciative towards us. Being bad at giving advice creates conflict and suffering. A really important aspect of giving advice is to be sensitive towards their ego. Don't make them feel embarrassed or pressured.

We should give advice differently based on the relationship dynamics:

  • For those above us, we should use the attitude of "reporting an idea for approval"

  • For those on the same level as us, we can give them advice directly if they trust us. Otherwise, we should use the same cautious attitude as advising elders.

  • For those below us, if they are humble, we can give the advice directly. Otherwise, we should offer it as a suggestion and discuss it with them. We should not demand or pressure them; otherwise, they might get upset at our lack of empathy and rebel against us.

Interested in other aspects of giving advice? I recommend reading this article on the three traits of effective leaders (lead by example, show genuine care, patiently teach.)


Weekly Wisdom #217

P.S. Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate it! 🎄 Wishing you lots of good cheer, happy relationships, and effective advising 😉


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