How Do You Handle
Unsolicited Advice?

Friends Talking

Unsolicited advice comes on many occasions - while speaking with friends and family, a stranger intruding on your conversation, even social media.

Most people are kind at heart and truly want to help others with a valuable solution to a situation or problem.  It's not uncommon for you to hear an off-handed piece of advice thrown your way, and it's your choice to take it or leave it.

But what do you do when helping becomes meddling?

When Your Boundary is Crossed

You know exactly when your boundary with unsolicited advice is reached.  It suddenly loses its authenticity, your adviser seems very invested in you accepting her suggestion, or the urging to accept advice becomes a little too forceful.  When any of these happen, you automatically feel the need to reject what you're hearing.

Even if a line has been overstepped, there are likely still good intentions at play, so take a deep breath and count to five.  Then choose one of these possible reactions:

  1. Change the subject.
    Mary: “I can’t believe you did that again.  When will you ever learn? Next time just tell her off!”
    You:  After taking a deep breath, "Mary, how about we change the subject to something more pleasant?”
  2. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt.  It’s possible he doesn’t realize he's given you the same advice at least three times this week.
  3. Look for a new idea in the unwelcome comment.  “If I were you…” might hold an idea that, were you to choose not to get snagged into a defensive reply, might be helpful.
    Jim: “Gary, as I’ve said before, what you should do is first contact the neighbors to give them a list of how you are complying with city regulations.”
    Gary: “Jim, you’ve given me an idea . . . I’m going to attend the next home owners' meeting and present my case to everyone in person.”
  4. Offset the advice with a request for different advice.
    “Sandy, I know you’re trying to be helpful, so let me ask for some advice that I could use . . ."

Offering Unsolicited Advice

As often as we receive unsolicited advice, each of us offers our own words of wisdom when we feel we might help someone.

Prevent someone else from feeling as you do when forced to take a suggestion.

  • Focus on social cues conveyed through body language.  Is the person you’re offering advice to rolling his eyes?  Is he making eye contact with you?  Are his arms crossed and is he turning his body slightly away?  Body language gives you helpful clues to know that you might be crossing a boundary.
  • Consider your relationship with the person you want to help.  Are you a peer or in a position of authority?  If it’s warranted, find a way to reach agreement before you offer it.
    “Clarice, I know I’m your mom, but if you were a mom, would you agree that some extra direction might be a good thing?”
  • After listening and determining your advice may be appreciated, simply ask permission to share it.  "Could I share some advice with you?"
  • However, if you hear yourself saying any of these phrases, reconsider saying anything at all:
    “You should…”
    “Well, I think you need to…”
    “It would be better if you…”
    “If you’d only listen to me…”

The Best Advice

When providing advice, be aware of the responsibility you assume.  The person you are attempting to help may be in a very vulnerable position.  Wisdom and authenticity will be very important.  If you aren't sure you can offer these two things, it's best to remain silent.

Instead, listen with a sympathetic ear and only suggest a solution if specifically asked for one.  Sometimes all another person may need is understanding and empathy.

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