how to give advice to coworkers without being annoying

Have you ever looked at another area of your company and thought, “They’d get better results if they did it this way instead”? If so, have you ever been tempted to tell them?

It’s a sticky area. Even if your input is fantastic, if you don’t present it in the right way, you can make people defensive and irritated.

Some people handle this by not ever making suggestions to others at all, sacrificing the possibility of giving input that might really be appreciated. Others handle it by plunging right in, repeatedly, and over time end up alienating their colleagues.

But there’s a way to give input that won’t make people want to tell you to mind your own business. It’s all in how you do it, and what you expect to happen after you do it. (These tips assume you’re a peer and not the person’s boss.)

* First, assume that if something isn’t your direct area of work, it’s probably more complicated than it looks from the outside. Make sure you present your input in a way where it’s obvious that you realize that.

* Next, make it clear that the person can handle your suggestion however they want — tell them they can use it or not, as they see fit, and they don’t even need to follow up with you about it if they don’t want to. That’s because you don’t want them to feel obligated to spend their time explaining that your suggestion, while sounding good on the surface, wouldn’t work because of x, y, and z, or that it’s been considered but ultimately discarded because of reasons you wouldn’t see from the outside, or that it’s a good point but just not a priority relative to other things, and so forth.

* Don’t keep pushing. Assume your suggestion will be given whatever due it merits, and that you have colleagues whose competence you can trust in — that they’ll use good input if it makes sense or fits in with their overall priorities, even if their reasons don’t resonate with you from the outside or are even unknown to you. (Of course, if you can’t trust your colleagues to be competent, that’s a different issue and you need a job with managers who don’t let incompetence go on very long.)

In sum, make sure you don’t come across as not having a basic level of trust in your colleagues’ competence and judgment. Offering input doesn’t conflict with that — but doing it in a way where they’d feel obligated to defend/explain themselves or argue it with you definitely can.