Unsolicited Advice… The Clue’s in the Name

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Ahh, who doesn’t love a bit of unsolicited advice?

NOBODY DOES. Nobody has ever wished for unsolicited advice for Christmas, or put it on their Amazon wishlist. It just hasn’t happened and won’t ever happen. Why? If people did those things, it would be solicited. And that’s exactly what’s wrong with unsolicited advice.

It’s unsolicited.

It’s pretty simple really, the clue was always in the name. Somehow, despite how much we all moan about it and resent it, we’re all prone to giving it every so often – myself included. I’ve caught myself wondering why we’re all so resistant to it when in most cases, it’s probably the advice we need to hear most. The mere act of giving unsolicited advice can often reveal more about the person giving it than the words that come out of their mouths. The next time you’re ambushed by a well-meaning lecture on how to navigate your life, tame those feathers and give yourself a chance to see where the other person is coming from.

Sometimes, a person gives advice because they want to be asked for advice.

Ego issues tend to be a delicate area, but sometimes that’s all there is to the unsolicited advice – the giver’s need to satisfy their own ego. Being asked for advice puts someone on a level where they have knowledge that the person asking doesn’t. On the other hand, if someone person asks for advice, they are putting themselves in a vulnerable position that leaves them open to criticism – the mere act of asking can be a magnet for this. The IDEA of being asked for help can be so compelling to the giver’s ego that it overrides the more empathetic thing to do – to act in the receiver’s best interests.

  • Tip for the giver: Put the other person first. Sometimes, the advice you feel will help them most may in fact do the opposite. They might just want an ear for a much-needed rant to clear their head. Your job is to be sensitive to what they want through the way they express themselves – and sometimes, what they are or aren’t saying. Put simply, if someone wanted advice, they’d ask for it.
  • Tip for the receiver: Understand that the unsolicited advice is coming from a place that, chances are, has nothing to do with you. See that the person’s desire to advise is their self-esteem reaching out for a foothold. Sometimes, all they want is for you to accept their advice – thus validating them. See past their words for the message behind their advice, they might speak the truth after all.

If you must advise, prepare for the other person to be offended.

Advice usually comes in the form of telling someone how they could do something better. Springing it on someone therefore sends a very unexpected, abrupt message that they’re doing something wrong (and you’d do it better than them if you were in their position). It can be a very personal blow, and there’s a fine line between being helpful and being unnecessarily tactless.

  • Tip for the giver: A great tip I learned from my teaching/coaching experiences – before offering any advice, pose the question, “Would you like to know what I think?” This then puts the ball in the receiver’s court and makes them take responsibility for the decision to listen openly to whatever you have to say.
  • Tip for the receiver: Resist the urge to bite back at the giver. Understand that this may be how they express themselves and they have a genuine desire to help you, but this is the only way they know how.

Are you qualified?

This can be harsh but is often plays a big role in the offensive nature of unsolicited advice. If you wanted help with a particular subject, you’d go to the person you feel is the most knowledgable and qualified to help you – in the same way you wouldn’t go to an architect for advice on a skin infection. Sometimes, offering advice on a subject that the listener knows you aren’t particularly familiar with can diminish their respect for you. It gives the impression that you are so desperate to be taken seriously that you are willing to pretend that you know exactly what’s going on.

  • Tip for the giver: Always lead with modesty. If you aren’t too familiar with the subject but feel strongly that you are able to advise on more general aspects, admit that you are coming from a perspective of inexperience. “I don’t know much about the specifics but from a layman’s point of view, I think that XYZ might be beneficial.” Modesty helps people feel comfortable around you, and shows them that you mean no harm when they are already feeling vulnerable in their current situation.
  • Tip for the receiver: Judging the giver based on what you think of them can be your pride bristling to protect itself. Realise that the giver may not have as much experience as you do on the subject, but they may have a valuable opinion simply by having a bird’s eye view and being able to see the larger picture. Embrace this and focus on the fact that most of the time, all they want to do is help you.

When was the last time you had someone hit you with unsolicited advice? How did you deal with it? Put your stories in the comments below, I’d love to hear them! Until next time – you go girl.

– J

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