Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
We’ve all received unsolicited advice before. Maybe you’ve had a family member, friend, co-worker or even a stranger tell you what you “really should or shouldn’t do.”
Maybe the advice you never asked for is a comment about your appearance, a relationship, how you parent, or about your home. It could be something as personal as your health or as innocuous as what nail color you “should” wear.
Sometimes the advice is spot on and helpful, other times, it’s not so helpful and unwelcome. The really uncomfortable part is, you didn’t ask for the advice, and you may not know how to respond.
Tips and guidelines to consider when faced with unsolicited advice
1. Stop & Think
First, pause and consider who is giving the advice, is it your boss, a family member, or a stranger?
Next, consider the intention. Why might they be giving me this advice? It may be coming from a place of caring and concern. A desire to share an experience, or to feel useful. Or maybe, they have their own agenda.
We can’t actually observe another’s intention or motivation, we can only make assumptions. That’s because a person’s intention is inside their mind. Because we don’t know the intention behind the advice with certainty, we may want to make the generous assumption that most unsolicited advice is well-meaning.
Offering a generous assumption will allow for better communication.
You may also want to consider if the unsolicited advice is a pattern. In other words, does this person frequently offer feedback for which you didn’t ask. Or is this feedback that you’ve gotten a few times before. Take some time to reflect on this.
Lastly, what are you feeling and thinking? Pay attention to your emotion(s), what it may be trying to tell you AND then choose how you want to respond.
When considering your emotion (e.g., anxious or angry), also take into account what you’re thinking. For example, if you’re anxious, you may be questioning your own competency or if you’re angry, you may feel your boundaries have been crossed.
Ask yourself, am I taking this personally? Is there any way I can benefit from this advice?
2. Choose how to respond
How one responds to unwanted advice can make the difference between harming or nurturing a relationship.
Workable responses promote:
- healthy communication
- self-respect and self-worth
Unworkable responses may result in desirable side effects in the short-term but have unwanted consequences in the long term.
For example: avoidance, passivity, and “going along with it” might build resentment and negatively impact the relationship.
Moreover, an angry outburst may injure the relationship or cause an unwanted scene. What’s most important is that your behaviors match the ones of the person you truly want to be.
Know this, there are times when saying nothing is the most effective thing you can do.
Things to say (and not to say) after getting unsolicited advice
|Be gentle and easy||“Thank you, I’ll consider that…” (then change the subject)|
|State a positive need||“I appreciate your idea but I need to _______ (what’s best for me).”|
|Use humor||Insert some humor to give the “advice” less power.|
|Defer to a professional||“I understand what you’re saying, but my doctor suggests…”|
|Yes, and…||“Yes, I hear you and I’m choosing to do this my way.”|
|Don’t take it personally||Consider your thoughts, feelings, and the message you may be hearing versus what is actually said.|
|Drop a hint||“It’s so funny, I’ve gotten a lot of unprompted advice about this lately.”|
|Set a boundary||
Honestly describe your feelings about being given unsolicited advice.
When you ______, I feel ______. Instead, please do this _______.
“When you tell me what to do, I feel like you’re questioning my (values, decisions, competence, etc.). I understand you want to be helpful. In the future, please let me ask for your advice before offering it.”
|Aggressive Responses||“You’re always telling me what to do!”|
|Reacting with criticism||“That’s stupid”|
|Silent Treatment||Ignoring the advice completely|
|Being too agreeable||Being overly accommodating and not making your own choices|
When you’re the one offering unsolicited advice
Maybe after reading this you realized, “Ouch, I do that” or you feel like people “never listen” when you offer advice.
The purpose of this post is not to shame you or prompt embarrassment; rather, it’s to help bring attention to the unintended consequences of the unsolicited advice. Recognizing the behavior is a valuable step!
In the future – even when you just want to be helpful – it’s best to wait to be asked for your input and to take into account the steps above before offering your thoughts or suggestions.
You may even want to add a couple more questions and ask yourself, “what’s my motive or agenda?” and “could it damage this relationship?”
Identify your objective in sharing advice and then discern if your actions will have the intended impact.
We’ve probably all been on both sides of the Unsolicited Advice interaction. Instead of reacting to those conversations, remember you can choose to respond in a manner that’s consistent with the relationship, the setting, and your values. In order to do that, you may need to slow down, stop and think, and choose a workable response. If you’re already feeling tired, irritable or just having a bad day, you may choose not to respond at all.
When trying to figure this out, therapy is a great way to get support and practice those communication challenges.
You may ask, don’t therapists give a lot of unsolicited advice? And the answer to that is no, therapists don’t tell you what to do. Rather, therapy provides a space for you to identify and express your emotions and thoughts, and learn to trust your own advice.
Copyright © 2022 The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale, LLC
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