Are you guilty of giving unsolicited advice? Advice is usually intended to be helpful. And many of us (myself included) offer guidance and suggestions, even tell others what they should do, without being asked. Regardless of our intentions, giving advice that isn’t wanted, can be annoying, intrusive, and even manipulative.
In this article, we’ll explore why we give unsolicited advice, how to tell when we’ve crossed the line from helping to harming, and how to stop giving unwanted advice.
What is unsolicited advice?
Unsolicited advice is guidance or information that wasn’t asked for.
Katerina confides in her mother about her boyfriend’s infidelity. Her mother tells her that cheating is a deal-breaker and she should break-up with him because it will only get worse. Katerina feels judged and unsupported by her mother.
David gives his teenage son, Jack, detailed directions about which bus routes to take to his job interview. Jack thinks his father sees him as incapable and stupid.
Shelly overhears a stranger talking about difficulty losing her “baby weight”. Shelly excitedly tells the stranger about her own weight loss and how the Keto diet is the healthiest and fastest way to lose weight. The stranger feels annoyed and confused by Shelly’s boldness.
Sometimes it’s given in a less direct or passive-aggressive way.
Beverly leaves Alcoholics Anonymous pamphlets and self-help books about addiction around the house as a not-so-subtle message that she thinks her wife needs to drink less. Her wife feels angry and is tired of Beverly’s nagging.
What’s wrong with giving unsolicited advice?
Giving advice when it’s asked for can be helpful, but unsolicited advice is another story.
Repeatedly giving unsolicited advice can contribute to relationship problems. It’s disrespectful and presumptive to insert your opinions and ideas when they may not be wanted. Unsolicited advice can even communicate an air of superiority; it assumes the advice-giver knows what’s right or best.
Unsolicited advice often feels critical rather than helpful. If it’s repetitive it can turn into nagging.
Unsolicited advice can also undermine people’s ability to figure out what’s right for them, to solve their own problems.
Giving unsolicited advice can be a frustrating experience for the advice-giver, as well. When our advice isn’t taken or appreciated, we often feel upset, hurt, or resentful.
Why do we give unsolicited advice?
You’re probably wondering why people give so much unsolicited advice, if it’s so problematic.
Here are some of the reasons for giving unsolicited advice:
- We want to be helpful.
- We want to get someone to do what we want or what we think is right.
- We think we have the answers, that we know more than others.
- We’re excited about a new product, idea, or service and want to share it.
- We want to reduce our own anxiety. Sometimes we’re really worried about a loved one and feel powerless. We don’t know what else to do, so we give unsolicited advice to calm our anxiety, to feel like we’re doing something.
Codependency and unsolicited advice
Codependency is an unhealthy focus on other people and other people’s problems. And while not everyone who frequently gives unsolicited advice is codependent, many codependents give unwanted advice as a way to help or fix other people, to feel needed or useful, or to manipulate others into doing what they want.
You can also think of unsolicited advice as a boundary violation. When you give advice that isn’t wanted, you’re intruding on someone else’s right to self-determination, to have different opinions, to come up with their own solutions. Boundaries go both ways – so we need to not only set boundaries so others don’t hurt us, but we also need to respect other people’s boundaries -- and asking before we give advice is one way to do this.
How to stop giving unwanted advice
Someone telling you about a problem isn’t an invitation for you to give advice. Often, people want to be heard and understood, they want to process and feel supported, they don’t want to be told what to do or what you think. So, the simplest approach to advice-giving is to ask permission before offering advice or suggestions. Here are a few examples:
I have some ideas about what might be helpful. Would you be interested in hearing them?
Are you open to suggestions?
Would it be most helpful for me to give you some advice or for me to listen?
I’ve been through something similar. Can I tell you about what worked for me?
Is there anything I can do to help?
Like many things, this is easier said than done. If it’s a struggle to ask permission, try to remember that unsolicited advice is not always helpful or the best way to encourage your loved one to change or try something new. It can even come off as rude or dismissive. If your goal is to be supportive and helpful, perhaps there’s a better way to accomplish this – and often the best way to know what’s supportive and helpful is to ask.
If you’re struggling with giving unsolicited advice, ask yourself these questions:
- Why do I want to offer advice right now?
- Is there something else that I can do that would be more helpful?
- Is there someone more qualified who could advise this person?
- Can I let them decide or figure this out on their own?
- What else can I do to reduce my anxiety or discomfort?
- Can I accept that my ideas aren't’ the only good ideas?
- How can I be supportive without giving unsolicited advice?
- Can I focus on listening and understanding instead of fixing and instructing? Would this be supportive and respectful?
How to respond to unsolicited advice
If you’re on the receiving end of unsolicited advice, your approach will probably depend on who is giving you the advice, about what, and how often. Generally, the best approach is to be direct and polite about what you need or want. Below are a few ways you can nicely tell someone to stop giving advice.
I know you mean well, but I’m not looking for advice. What I’d really like is ___________________.
Right now, I just want to vent. I’m not looking for solutions.
The most helpful thing you can do is to sit with me and listen.
I appreciate your ideas, but I want to figure this out on my own.
I feel inadequate and annoyed when you repeatedly tell me what to do. I know you care about me and I’ll let you know when I need help.
That doesn’t feel like the right approach for me.
I know you’re trying to help, but I don’t need any more advice.
That’s not something I want to discuss.
You may also want to take preventative measures, especially with routine offenders, and start conversations by letting them know if you’re looking for empathy or guidance/feedback. This can set expectations and help others know how best to support you.
Whether you’ve been on the giving or receiving end of unsolicited advice, I’d love to hear what’s worked for you. Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments.
©2020 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. Originally published by PsychCentral.com.
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