Last week I got some unsolicited advice about personal finance blogging. “You have to spend more time urging your readers to take action,” the person said. “People need to be told what to do.”
At the time, I nodded my head and responded calmly, “Okay. That makes sense.” Later, though, when I was alone and had a chance to reflect on the conversation, I was struck by the absurdity of it all and started laughing uncontrollably. Do people really need or want to be told what to do? Not the people I know!
A Matter of Perspective
There are two ways to make a point – you can be authoritative and shove it down someone’s throat by force, or you can provide information for the person to use in a way that makes sense to them (or not at all).
To be fair, the person who suggested I tell people what to do has one of those slick personalities that is well suited for selling cars or door-to-door life insurance. When you focus on “selling” to others, you develop a knack for convincing them of what they want or need, no matter how much they may protest in the beginning. If I spent years trying to get people to buy things, maybe I, too, would believe that “people need to be told what to do.”
Here’s the thing – I am a salesman’s worst nightmare. I’m skeptical, I do my own research ahead of time, and I’m not the least bit afraid to walk away. I’m also a licensed therapist with 11 years of training in “starting where the client is.” In other words, my former career helped me learn about people in a much different way. I’m not interested in whether or not someone wants to buy what I’m selling; I want to know why they choose one or the other. And I’m not invested in the answer because I believe people deserve to make their own choices with the information available to them.
How to Get Someone to do Something
I can’t speak for anyone else, but if you really want me to do something, there are a few ways you could go about it.
You could tell me I have no other choice. And I would respond by finding ANY possible way not to do it, just because someone said I had to and I’m stubborn.
You could tell me it was impossible. This approach has merit because I like the idea of beating the odds. However, I would have to believe it was possible myself before I’d try it – if I agreed it was impossible, I wouldn’t bother.
You could present all the options, making a strong case why that particular choice is better for ME. This would come closest to getting me to act in a certain way, though I would still have to buy into your line of reasoning.
Or You Could Let People Make Their Own Choices
If you’ve read my About page, you know that I’m not a finance professional. I’m not a banker. I’m not a CPA or CFP or any of those cool acronyms that some finance bloggers get to put after their names. I’m simply a person who got in a lot of debt and made a ton of mistakes, and now I’m sharing what has worked for me in trying to dig my way out. (With the added bonus of two college degrees that do make me qualified to talk about the motivations behind human behavior, which is what I write about most.)
I’m not a fan of telling people what to do, both because I don’t like to be told what to do AND because I don’t think it’s helpful for most people. Now, if you give me a situation, I can tell you what I would do if it were me. Or I can tell you what I did in the past if I’ve experienced that situation personally. I could even tell you about my cousin’s girlfriend’s friend and what she did in that situation. That information may or may not help you in YOUR decision-making process.
I will never tell you what to do because I don’t live your life. I don’t live in your house or raise your kids (thank God) or do your job. I blog about money and debt because I like to share information about my experiences. My goal is simply to encourage you to think differently about your financial situation if it’s not working for you, and to understand some of the patterns that could affect the way you deal with money. I also know a lot about crappy financial situations because of my history.
There are plenty of people who are qualified if you need specific information. If you have questions about taxes, go see a CPA (or read a CPA’s blog). If you want to learn how to build a house on a budget, go look up Bob Vila. But if you want to read about debt and overspending from someone who knows (and isn’t going to tell you what to do), you just might be in the right place.
So, Do You Like Being Told What to Do?
How do you respond when someone tells you what you “should” do or how you “should” act? Do you prefer concrete instructions, or would you rather interpret information according to your lifestyle? Does it depend on the situation?