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There is a certain behavior that I have observed during conversations with my work mates, or sometimes during casual conversations with extended family members.

A person will talk about a certain problem, big or small. Sometimes, when I can think of a solution, I offer my opinion on the issue. Most of the times I might have been the least expected person to offer a solution, as well as it being a simple, one line statement, and not an elaborate action plan.

Unfortunately, their reactions have been one of the following:

  • Laugh at what I said.
  • Stare at me like I have just committed a murder, and ignore my solution
  • Make a long face that someone like me has had a solution
  • Say something sarcastic or offending. For e.g., 'If you have a solution, then why are you still at this position' or 'This person has good general knowledge' or anything else to mock me.

Of late I have understood that I was answering questions for people to whom I was not the intended solution provider, and hence all of the above things have happened. I am having a tough time deciding when to give a solution and when not to.

If I do not offer a solution at the office I think it would not be fair, because my ideas could, perhaps, substantially contribute to the well being of the company. However, if I speak up, I might be mocked, and I fear the kind of nasty stares that I would get later.

My question is : How should I assess when to give solutions to problems when in a group discussion and the question is thrown at all participating audience and not specific to anyone?


Edit 1 : I am mentioning how I have reacted to such backlash previously:

  • There were instances where I was deeply hurt. And couldn't do anything but feel bad about it.
  • Sometimes, there would be awkward silence among us and turned out to be very embarrassing.
  • Most of the times, it would be shrugged off with statements like, 'You seem to be a know-all' which is more hurtful.

Edit 2 : Edited my question more elaborately.

Edit 3 : As per a few comments/answers, I am mentioning below a few scenarios, where I offered a one line solution.

Situation 1 : There was a kind of quiz program, where we had 3-4 teams. The quiz master asked a few questions for which the answers were one liners. Most of the rounds were rapid fire and not intended to any team in specific. 80% of such questions were in my area of expertise and I answered them in a jiffy. Everyone, including the quiz master, made a long face. My team won, but I was not happy seeing those long faces. My quiz master was not happy seeing my team winning and esp, because I was the major contributor.

Situation 2 : We were all in a team meeting and one of the members was struggling hard to recollect a word that is used for a particular scenario. I was the one to answer it. By the looks of it, he knew it but couldn't remember and was not happy to receive an answer from me. And, I guess, it was a new word to the rest of the team members. I could guess it from their body language.

Situation 3 : A female colleague was discussing about her PMS problems when we were both alone. I asked her if she happened to meet a gynec. She didn't respond to me but appeared to be in a pensive mood. She avoided me for that entire day. We usually have a small chat every two hours or so, during the work hours.

These are the situations which needed one word or one sentence answers and in fact, these are casual ones. Apart from these, there are 3-4 instances where I had given technical solutions too which were met with a long, brooding faces or mocking comments.


Edit 4 : I am writing this after reading all the comments and answers to this thread.

As per the answers I have received below, I did realize a few things.

As @Spagirl has mentioned, may be people were not really looking for a solution and my reply might have made them feel that I do not consider their problem to be as severe as they thought.

Also, going forward, I would be more assertive in my replies. I thought I was being assertive till now, but it is possible that I might have come across as condescending. @Astralbee, yes, I think ignoring the rebuff of my extended family is good for short term. I think handling things at workplace is of utmost importance to me.

Instead of one liners, I definitely would add a few phrases as suggested by @Laura. My reply might have come across as though it was not a big problem.

I request all those who have answered not to delete their replies; every single sentence has been useful to me. I am writing this as I have seen a few answers getting deleted or edited in SE.

P.S: Please feel free to add appropriate tags.

  • Work environments differ hugely across countries, could you add a location tag and describe the work culture a little? Are there any power balances an answer should take into account? – Tinkeringbell Mar 12 '18 at 11:46
  • @Tinkeringbell Added the same. What is power balance? Can you please elaborate on the latter question? – WonderWoman Mar 12 '18 at 11:59
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    Can you provide an example of one of this interactions? How are you providing your answers? – Juan Carlos Oropeza Mar 12 '18 at 15:00
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    'Make a long face that someone like me has had a solution' What should we understand from 'someone like me', do you mean like you in terms of gender, ethnicity, expertise, character, height, weight..... – Spagirl Mar 12 '18 at 16:11
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    @Spagirl It varied from scenario to scenario. For e.g., when I was a newbie or when I was in a different country with different ethnicity or in a team where Indians were frowned upon, or when I was the only female. – WonderWoman Mar 12 '18 at 16:33
4

NB This answer was written when the Question read: ‘How should I use my discretion as to when to answer to something and when not to?’

It is often useful when you aren’t getting the reaction you expect or hope for to have a look, not so much at the immediate situation, ie here that would be you offering a solution and being rebuffed, as at the wider context, including what happened before you acted and how other people were acting.

In the situations you describe, without you giving us very detailed examples, the most we can do here is offer some pointers for things for you to think about. Some of them might not be applicable, indeed it may be that none of them are, but if that’s the conclusion you come to you will at least have ruled those out, which is progress of a sort.

So, some thoughts on how to use your discretion in different circumstances:

Are the other people truly looking for a solution?

There are circumstances where people tell problems because they want answers; Stack Exchange is a great example of that, we are all here to try to help each other. There are other situations:

  • Sometimes people just want to vent their frustration and find that being offered practical solutions gets in the way of that.
  • Sometimes a group of people are bonding over a shared problem and anyone offering a solution to the problem could be seen as both setting them self apart from the group, and weakening the group bonding.
  • Sometimes a person complaining about a problem can genuinely think it is insoluble and are telling the group that it is beyond even their great skill and problem solving capacity. A person offering a solution in that situation might be thought of as trying to belittle the person with the problem, or to be bragging to make them self look superior.

If you find that you can’t spot these situations just from the way the person is talking about the problem; watch and listen to how other people are reacting.

  • Are they commiserating with the person with the problem?
  • Are they agreeing how annoying the problem is?
  • Are they just nodding along and letting the person with the problem hold the floor?

In any of these cases, and while you are learning how to use discernment, consider not offering a solution unless other people begin to. That way you can observe the exchanges and see if there is a way your behaviour is out of step with your colleagues/friends etc.

NOTE: You do not have to behave the same way as other people, but if you want to understand the reactions you are getting, it will pay to observe how they behave.

Are your proposed solutions good?

Do you know enough about the subject or the problem to be confident that your answer is actually effective? Do you give an appropriate amount of detail? Perhaps you give too little info to be helpful or so much detail that you kill the conversation.

This is another instance where the Stack Exchange model is a useful thing to consider. When people offer answers here, all the members of the site can vote on it. The answers which get a lot of votes gain reputation points for their authors, which in turns allows them access to site features which are reserved for ‘trusted users’. People who post answers which members don’t think are good may find individual answers get deleted or that their account is blocked from answering questions. They don’t earn reputation points or get access to trusted user features. This seems like it could be a parallel of what you are experiencing…

Obviously I can’t tell you if the solutions you offer to people are good, it might even that they would be good solutions for a person of your abilities and skill, but not a good solution for the person who is struggling. Possibly the only way you are going to find out if this is part of the problem is to ask somebody. So if there is someone you can approach in whichever group you sense this feedback in, consider asking them, in a one to one situation, something like:

Can I ask your advice? I’ve always thought I was offering people helpful solutions, but I’m beginning to wonder if solutions that would work for me aren’t always good for other people. Sometimes I get the impression that people wish I hadn’t chipped in a solution, what do you think?

Of course, tailor comments to suit your own situation and personality, but try to mention these four things:

  • that your intentions in offering solutions are good
  • that you can see that your solutions aren’t well received
  • that you are trying to work out why
  • that you are open to advice.

Then listen to what they tell you. You don’t have to agree, but don’t tell them they are wrong. You have asked what they think, so accept in and if you think you disagree… tuck that thought away and think about it some more later. Think about it while you are holding back and watching how others react and if you still don’t agree, well that’s okay, maybe try asking another person and see if they think the same. But be aware, people don’t always come up with good or perfectly worded answers when asked something without warning, so be kind to both yourself and the person you ask.

In reality, the issue might not be any of these things, or it might be a combination of them. You shouldn’t feel bad for wanting to offer solutions to people. But if you are getting negative feedback, stepping back from offering solutions while you watch and consider how others are respond in the same situation, and how they might be perceiving your input is likely to be useful.


In light of the examples you have added I wanted to add a couple of thoughts:

The examples are very varied and I wonder if you are interpreting a whole range of reactions as verification of one phenomenon in a kind of confirmation bias

Confirmation bias ... is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.

when in fact a whole bunch of different things are going on. For example, with your female colleague: as you have presented things, you weren’t offering a solution but asking a about medical consultation.

At the quiz you answered quiz questions ahead of your colleagues, which isn’t about you offering ‘solutions’, but it might be about team tactics or competing egos...

When you supplied the missing word in a meeting you could guess things about others from their body language... is there anything they might be ‘guessing’ (rightly or wrongly) from your body language?

So perhaps consider, in some of the situations where you feel you offered a solution and were rebuffed, whether other things were actually happening. Perhaps people didn’t think you were offering solutions so much as criticising what they had done so far, hogging the limelight or looking down on them?

NOTE: I’m not saying they would necessarily be correct if those were their thoughts, but trying to see things through others’ eyes may help you untangle and reduce these reactions.

2

Changing opinion style

It's not only when to give a solution. It's also about how to give as solution. Also, a work environment is different from an out-of-work environment.

If you're staying with the same company. Apologize for your behavior, or if you feel uncomfortable with that, at least let your co-workers know that you will change your behavior. Otherwise, the bullying or ignoring is likely to continue.

When to give an opinion?

It's probably best to wait till people ask for your opinion. No one likes a person who always has an opinion on seemingly everything. You should let people use your knowledge and skills when it is useful for them, otherwise you're simply treading on their ego.

How to give an opinion?

So, let's show how to wrap an answer. Overall you want to start positive, then talk about what can be improved, then end positive again which is usually the expected positive outcome.

You first start with something positive. This means apprehending the difficulty of the situation (i.e. external factors) as well as affirming the capacities and skills (i.e. internal factors) of your conversation partners.

"That's quite a technical problem we have. I believe the idea John had is valuable. It gave me an idea. What do you think if we...?"

Notice that I use the "we" form. This gives a feeling of being on the in-group. Using in-group lingo also strengthens the in-group feeling. You mentioned someone, let's call him John, forgot the word for a technical term. This would have a been great opportunity to share your knowledge, or better yet ask John to explain the term to the rest of the group.

Secondly, in the example I affirmed John's idea to be valuable. This will make it easier for John to accept my ideas as valuable input as well. Notice that I used the wording "I believe" indicating it is just my opinion, and not the absolute truth. This gives others the opportunity to disagree.

Lastly, I used an open question to communicate the idea. This makes it more difficult for people to answer with "no", because it isn't a yes/no question.

An important thing to notice is that I do not use a one word solution. People don't get this, and they even may find it weird. They might feel stupid for not understanding you. If you elaborate a little bit on what you mean while checking their comprehension, people might actually find your ideas valuable.

More is more. A person's short-term memory is typically somewhere around 30 seconds. If you put information shorter than 30 seconds into people's short-term memory it can be easily disregarded. It is better to spread your idea over 3 or more memory-cycles. For example, give a solution and elaboration in 30 seconds, listen to fox x seconds, get back to your idea for 20 seconds, listen to other for x seconds, and finally focus on how solution leads to a positive outcome for 20 seconds. Then the solution you present is stored in intermediate memory systems. If it the idea is perceived valuable it is more likely to be stored in long-term memory. You might want to read about research on persuasiveness.

After thoughts

This is not meant to be a full-blown analysis, but just a bit of a brainstorm of the possible core of the problem. The behaviors of your workmates are so typical I couldn't resist.

  • "laugh at what I said"

Laughing is an emotional response as well as a social cue to ease awkwardness, pain, and stress. This doesn't mean people do not value your input, they just might not understand it. Best would be to laugh or smile, and maybe apologize for not explaining well.

  • "stare..and ignore"

This is the second strategy to which people retort when they are uncomfortable with putting up with a situation. It is also often in this order of degree. So, you're really on the wrong foot with your workmates.

  • "good general knowledge"

Seems to me, your workmates do not appreciate your input on that particular topic. I think they feel you're getting in their swimming water. They might feel threatened you're taking over their job, or rendering them invaluable. No one wants to feel invaluable, right?

  • "Did you visit the gynaecologist?"

Not sure if this is appropriate question to ask. It's a closed question, putting your workmate on the spot. Furthermore, I think it's an intimate question that you would only ask an intimate friend. Although you intended to be concerned about her health, she might have perceived it as being nosy. I think what she was looking for was social support. You should have said:

"I know right. Headaches and feeling you never want to leave your bed. PMS sucks."

If you want to continue the conversation use an open question:

So how do you manage to get through your period?

And to lighten up the conversation:

"Wouldn't it be great if we got a day off on our periods. I heard there is country where women get 3 days a month off. Was it Japan or Korea?"

Anyway chitchatting is also important skill to have on the workfloor.

I know my answer is a bit long, and it could have gotten longer, but it's a difficult problem. It is most likely not just your fault, or that of your workmates, but other factors such as stereotypes, company culture, and misunderstandings play a role.

1

I have always been an introvert, myself. During my college days, people thought that I was being rude, when my conversations were short. So, when I tried to make the initiative to talk to people, in the rarest of rare occasions, I was simply ignored, and my attempts were rebuffed. I was looked down upon, for being an introvert, in other ways too.

Also, I don't like long-distance travelling. So, when I declined my friends' invitations to go on a tour with them, they took it as a personal insult, and when I tried to make conversation later, they mocked me too. And I was clueless as to why.

If you ignore your colleague's invitations to socialise outside the office, they will be more inclined to treat you like this.


Another possibility is jealousy of some sort. Your colleagues might be jealous of something you have, which they don't. There are two ways to feel superior to others: by possessing something coveted/by excelling at something or by putting down others. It might just be a dominance contest which is quite common in social hierarchies nowadays.

Those who cannot use the former way, might use the latter way.

TL;DR;

Simply refrain from your offering your help unless someone asks for it specifically, or if something too important hinges on your offered help. On a side note, it's best that you tell this to a trusted friend. He might have more insight, being close to you. If the situation doesn't improve even after that, give them the cold shoulder; they might change their behaviour. Even better yet, witholding help, when they come to you, might be enough.

1

There are many kinds of people. Some of them are very quick at voicing opinions/answers/ asking questions in a group scenario while a few others respond only when they are specifically asked. Rest of us maintain a middle ground.

I'm not sure about other cultures but here, in India, it's common to hear total silence when the trainer says 'Any questions ???'after a training/meeting. Most of us don't even say 'No'. However, there might be this one person who is always asking questions and pitching in.

In office scenarios, people tend to dub these folks as some sort of 'know-alls'. Once they have that label, it's common to see others rolling their eyes/make annoyed gestures whenever this person speaks up.

It doesn't mean that people don't like this person, it's just that this person is different from most of others in the group so it's a shared way of saying 'Oh,there he/she goes again'.

Let me touch upon your scenarios

1) Long faces may be just because everyone is bored of same person answering again and again. There's nothing you can do to prevent it other than, maybe raise hands instead of blurting out the answer. This can give others an opportunity to voice their answers.

2) Wait for him to recollect the word, he wouldn't really think forever. Have a little more patience or if you need to help him out, do it in a polite manner while looking at him - 'Is it ?'. When you are finishing someone's sentences, they have to feel you are helping them out and not taking over their speech by addressing others

3) She's clearly not looking for a solution. People who tell you their problems are just looking to unburden themselves of their worries/guilt and just need your empathy. Even if you want to give a solution, wait till she finishes her whole discussion and then say 'Can I suggest this , did yo visit a doctor ?'. From her reaction, it looks like she started telling you something and you interrupted her with a sudden idea. Maybe she's just embarrassed at having discussed personal stuff with you

What you can now do is to learn from others. Develop a little more patience. Understand that it's not necessary that all your opinions/solutions have to be voiced out. Remain silent and slow down a bit when in a group and wait for others to give their opinions and then you tell yours. If someone is still mocking you, stay away from that person, do you really need them to be a friend ?

In 1-1 cases, please wait for the other person to finish saying their piece before you start advising and always show empathy in words and actions if you want to be considered a good listener.

Please note that this is only with regards to soft skills. If you are working on some office project and you have the solution, you can still always give it without waiting for everyone else to waste time on it.

0

As the youngest sibling of 4 and the youngest cousin of over 30, I have spent most of my adult life in this scenario. At my first job in my current career, I was in a senior position so I didn't have this scenario; then I moved locations, and joined a firm where no one ever leaves, so I have remained in a junior position for 13 years. I went from being a trusted SME to a proverbial newbie whose optimal performance grades and proven track record don't mean much because in their eyes, I'm was hired after they were so they know more.

You have a few choices, such as don't say anything (keep it to yourself - a mild form of punishment to them, e.g. 'letting them suffer' for not listening to you), or provide full blown details of "This is what I would do..." which will turn them off, or you can attempt to share your advice but in more of a counseling way.

For example, phrase your wording with phrases such as:

  • "Hmmm, that's interesting. Have you tried ___?"
  • "Really? Well, you might try ___. Although it may not be relevant in your particular scenario, it has worked for me."
  • "Really? How odd, you might consider ___"
  • "You know, I thought I saw an article/case/story where this was actually fixed/studied/tested/researched...hold on and I'll find that information for you"

If you go this route, you leave the power to choose up to them.

If they opt to not follow your suggestion, which is what happens with one of my siblings, that's their freedom to choose. I can think of a scenario where I had an excellent suggestion for a divorce lawyer with an excellent track record for him, but he rejected the suggestion. The only reason I can fathom is that I'm younger than he is. If he always negates my input, that is his loss, not mine.

If your delivery is couched in any shred of arrogance or pride, they will pick up on it; your advice will not be considered.

0

To answer your question of when to give solutions: If you have been included in a discussion at work, then your opinions have merit. Unless you are there in some specific, non-contributory capacity then you are there to speak up and help shape the outcome, and I believe that you should. You may just need to be more assertive than you perhaps have been, and some web research may turn up a few helpful articles on assertiveness.

If your workmates make you feel bad just for speaking up, then they probably aren't the sort of people you'd want to be friends with outside of work anyway, so you have nothing to lose by being assertive at work. They will either respect you for being assertive, or they will just continue to be jerks.

With this in mind, always state your opinions and idea clearly and affirmatively. If someone shoots you down, ask them to explain themselves. Why do they think your idea won't work? Be ready and prepared to defend your ideas. But do remember that in a healthy work environment (yours sounds a bit toxic) the purpose of meetings like that is to share ideas and talk them through until everybody agrees on the best way forward - so be prepared to back down graciously if you are proved wrong. Still, I don't believe this question is about whether you are right or wrong - it is about the unpleasant way your colleagues are reacting.

Make sure you know your workplace rights. This does differ from place to place so I have no specific advice, but forewarned is forearmed, and if you know for example that your employer has a policy on bullying then you should feel assured you can stand up to someone who may be unfairly maligning you.

On the matter of your extended family sometimes making you feel the same way - well, it may be that because it happens so much at work you are extra sensitive to this. But I don't want to imply that you are imagining this. I note that you said "extended" family, not immediate family, and not friends. Well, immediate family are the ones we are closest to, and there is a natural understanding between them. Friends we choose. But whatever you mean by extended family, be it in-laws or distant cousins, these can be difficult to deal with because there is a level of familiarity but without the closeness. My advice here would be to tolerate this if you can, because upsetting even distant family can have a further-reaching impact.

0

Instead of wondering when to answer questions or give solutions to the problems whether directed at you or not, you should ask yourself: why are your peers, and as a consequence you, consider yourself "the least expected one to offer a solution"?.

Once you do that you will probably realize that this is the actual issue that is bothering you, and it should. Everyone has a right to an opinion and deserves to be heard, so by no means you should try to justify people who disrespectfully discard your solutions or blame yourself for their reaction.

As for the reasons why this is happening to you, it might be because you are not very socially active, which is fine (everyone has their own temperament), but it might have landed you in the "ignore zone". So in the event when people don't actually have a choice but to notice you, they consider you an outsider intruding on their "territory" and essentially just rejecting the unfamiliar.

To get yourself out of this position in your social circle you will require a lot of confidence. Now, I know a lot of people might suggest being more "assertive" by using certain body language or voice tone or some specific phrases. None of those however are a consciously learned behavior, so instead you should change your mindset in a way that will allow you to exhibit all those traits of assertive behavior naturally.

In other words: instead of acting confident you have to be confident. Which actually means to be sure of your opinion and your right to express it regardless of how anyone reacts. And remember that self-doubt is your greatest enemy, you have enough people doubting you as it is, so by doubting yourself you prove them right.

The short answer (only applies to group activities)

If you find yourself being mocked or laughed at for providing a solution, ask that person:

I'm sorry, name, do you have a better idea?

Now, I know it sounds a bit offensive, but you're not actually offending anyone if you say it calmly while being sure of your solution and your right to express it. It is also important to do this by name to assign responsibility to a person who decided to assert themselves at your expense and possibly shame them (implicitly) for their inappropriate behavior.

A bit of gender psychology

A situation with your female colleague is a separate case altogether and is bit of a cliché in the inter-gender relationships. Acknowledging that ultimately not all people fall under these generalizations, women tend to share their problems primarily to receive emotional support, while men, when addressed with a problem, compelled to try and solve it.

This results in a serious frustration on the female part, when faced with a "fix-it" type of answer to the problem that is clearly causing serious stress (how is he not getting it?!), and a complete perplexity on the male part. Because in many cases this kind of reply is perceived as insensitive and not caring.

So the next time your female colleague, friend or partner addresses you with a problem, first thing you should do is try to express empathy and compassion (I know it's not that easy for us guys :), assuming you're a guy...) and only then maybe you can try to suggest a solution.

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